Portugal had the biggest abstention ever in the presidential elections of 24 January, 60.5 percent of voters decided not to vote. This means that only about 4 million people left their homes to exercise their right, in Portugal and abroad.
Many reasons can contribute to this result. Lack of interest in politics, at risk groups that did not want to risk leaving home and people who were in mandatory confinement because they were infected or had contact with someone infected after 17 January – the deadline to make an early vote.
Another cause of this result was the management of Portuguese votes abroad. In lockdown, having to travel thousands of kilometers to vote is not always a good option. Portuguese living abroad represented a huge abstention that helped to increase the abstention from 54.46 percent (in Portuguese territory) to 60.5 percent.
Data from Voters Without Borders points that “Portugal is the ?EU country with the fourth-most number of citizens living in another Member State (after Romania, Croatia and Bulgaria). Among 1.5 million of them, only ?1.96 percent exercised their right to vote”.
“Portuguese Presidential elections only provide o voto presencial?, meaning that a citizen must go in person to the polling station or closest electoral office in order to vote – unlike for other Portuguese elections. Unfortunately, the ‘closest’ electoral office could be 1,480 km away, such as for those living in Valette, Malta. Those living in Ljubljana, ?Belgrade, Vilnius, Tallinn and Riga also face this situation, by having to travel to Vienna, Copenaghen, Stockholm or Helsinki in order to cast their vote”, they stated
Even Portuguese citizens residing in Member States had difficult in exercising their rights. Countries such as France, Germany or Spain due to the big size didn’t provide an easy and cheap way of people to ensure their right to vote due to the inaccessibility of polling stations.
“Here in Spain no one is going to vote because Madrid and Barcelona’s diplomatic representative offices decided not to locate in other Comunidades Autónomas. Spain is a big country and so is the distance between the main Spanish cities. All these factors affected the Presidential elections’ turnout. In fact, Portuguese citizens (who regularly pay their taxes) are reasonably not keen on spending 100 Euros to travel around Spain, especially during a pandemic. I even tried to call an electoral helpline, but all my efforts were in vain”, said a young Portuguese man residing in Valencia, quoted by the Voters Without Borders.
“Like him, another 96.35 percent of Portuguese living in Spain abstained from voting. Worse still, 99.27 percent in France did not vote”, said the organization.
However, after this bad democratic result, Voters Without Borders have presented a solution. “A solution to this democratic disaster can be found under the?Voters Without Borders European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI)?. ?This petition aims to reform current EU legislation by recognising ?full political rights for EU citizens on the move. Indeed, there are more than 14 million EU citizens living in another Member State, but ?none of them hold equal political rights in their country of residence. ?While paying their taxes, contributing to the welfare system and to that society in general, they are not entitled to vote in the elections that make the biggest difference to their lives, i.e. regional, national elections and referendums”. To be considered by the European Commission it needs to raise 1 million signatures by December 2021.