Lessons from the EU referendum


- AFP

THE United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union in a historic referendum last week.

No one really expected this result. Polls conducted before the referendum pointed to a slim Remain win. Yet when all the votes were counted, it was the Leave camp that celebrated.

The turnout was uncharacteristically high for the United Kingdom at 72.16%. The last UK-wide referendum, which was held in 2011 to determine the voting system of the country, had a turnout of only 42% of the electorate. The General Elections held in 2015 saw a turnout of 66.4%.

17,410,742 people, or 52 percent, voted for the UK to Leave, against 16,141,241 people, or 48% who voted to Remain. In the end, it was close, but there is still a significant margin between the two.

In the aftermath of the referendum, the UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, announced that he would resign from his post as prime minister sometime in October, taking responsibility for the loss of the Remain campaign that he spearheaded. Characteristic of politics in mature democracies, it has simply become untenable for him to continue as prime minister.

Two threads have emerged from the result. The first is how some Leave voters now regret their decisions. The media reported several instances of Leave voters who voted thinking that Remain would win in any event. These people thought that their votes would not matter anyway. Now faced with the reality and uncertainty of Brexit, some of them have expressed regret in the way they voted.

The second thread that emerged is the feeling from young people that they have been "betrayed" by older voters. They feel that it was the older voters who gave the Leave victory, since younger voters voted to Remain.

This sentiment is best expressed in a viral comment by a person by the name of Nicholas Barret, who said; "Secondly, the younger generation has lost the right to live and work in 27 other countries. We will never know the full extent of the lost opportunities, friendships, marriages and experiences we will be denied. Freedom of movement was taken away by our parents, uncles, and grandparents in a parting blow to a generation that was already drowning in the debts of our predecessors."

The young people of the UK have taken to social media to express their anger, frustration and disappointment at the result. Some have even descended on the UK parliament to protest against the result, arguing that the voting age should have been lowered to 16 from 18 currently.

They have a reason to feel this way. A poll conducted on the day of the referendum showed that nearly three quarters (73%) of 18 to 24 year-olds voted to Remain, falling to under two thirds (62%) among 35-44s. A majority of those aged over 45 voted to Leave, rising to 60% of those aged 65 or over.

Another poll found that 75% of 18 to 24 year olds voted to Remain, which lowered to 56% of 25-49, 44% of 50-64 and only 39% for 65 year olds and above.

Even though these polls are not 100% accurate, it does show that young people voted to remain by a considerable margin, but were outvoted.

"They were voting for their future, yet it has been taken from them," said the leader of the Liberal Democrat party, Tim Farron.

Unfortunately, it has also emerged that the turnout for young voters was characteristically low. At a poll taken at the Glastonbury music festival, 22% of the young attendees did not vote, with 65% of those saying they wanted to vote to Remain but did not register in time.

The EU referendum should be a lesson for us here in Malaysia. Firstly, never assume that your vote means nothing. Gerrymandering and disproportionate voter distribution may mean some votes have less value than others, but each and every vote is precious and important. Elections have been won and lost on narrow margins of victory.

More importantly, the young people of Malaysia should take heed of the EU referendum results. If you do not register to vote, if you do not cast your ballot, you are going to let older people decide your own future.

If you think voting is mere "politics", and politics is unimportant, you are going to wake up one day and realise that your country is heading to a future which you do not want. A future where the country is saddled with debts that will take a generation to pay off, coupled with a flagging economy, rising costs of living, unemployment and the people divided along racial and religious lines with nothing in between.

By that time, it may be too late for you to regret not participating in the electoral process.

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