What’s With the Apathy?

The Canadian people woke up 15 October to a new government that looked remarkably like the old government. “Basically, we have just gone through a $300 million-plus election that we could ill afford and the Conservatives are still stuck with their irksome minority government situation that led them to call the election in the first place,” said Terrence Downey, president of St Mary’s University College in Calgary, Alberta. “Nothing much has changed except for increased levels of voter apathy and cynicism.”

This election saw the lowest national voter turnout in Canadian history at 59 percent, even as a global financial crisis threatened to plunge the nation’s economy into recession. This broke the previous record low of 61 percent in 2004. Canadian voter turnout peaked at close to 80 percent in the general election of 1958. The last four Canadian federal elections have all been under 65 percent, the first time since 1896.

Prime Minister Steven Harper observed that “it’s been low and getting lower for some time now.” What he didn’t say is exactly what the Conservatives want, since this works to the advantage of the wealthy and not-so-wealthy supporters of the status quo. It was Harper who pushed through new stringent proof-of-identity requirements, emulating United States President George W Bush, contributing to the low turnout.

But Americans can only envy Canada. The US hasn’t had a voter turnout as high as 59 percent since 1968, when 60.8 percent voted. The last three national election turnouts were 56.7 (2004), 51.3 (2000), and 49.1 (1996) percent. Part of the problem is the vindictive voter registration system that discards many of the poor and in most states, anyone who has ever been in jail, no matter what the offence. Recall that the US prisoner population, at two million, is the highest in the world and the highest per capita in the world.

But what is the underlying explanation for this mysterious aversion that Canadians and Americans have shown to their political systems in the recent past? Canadian voter fatigue from a succession of minority governments just doesn’t wash. Everyone has strong political preferences, and given worthy candidates addressing issues that are important, people will take the few minutes required to vote. Canadians pay a considerable amount to fund each election and spend hours listening to political ads, commentary, debates and “news”.

Could it be that no politicians are addressing the burning issues? That voters realize there is no difference between the two ruling parties? The US political system was aptly described by Carroll Quigley, Bill Clinton’s politics professor, as follows: “The two parties should be almost identical, so that the American people can ‘throw the rascals out’ at any election without leading to any profound or extensive shifts in policy.” This is easily applied to the Canadian situation.

And who controls the policy? Could it be the Zionist establishment in North America, politely called the Israeli lobby if the critic dares mention it at all? Canada has pumped thousands of troops into Afghanistan since the US invaded it seven years ago and has suffered the third highest casualties after the US and Britain, with only resentment and despair on the part of Afghans as thanks. More than 60 percent of Canadians want out immediately. The natural party to lead the campaign against this betrayal of Canada’s image as peacekeeper was the Liberal Party, led by the French Canadian Stephane Dion — French Canadians are traditionally pacifist.

But the Liberals have been paralyzed, unable to voice the popular will, and were routed last year by the small socialist New Democratic Party (NDP) in a by-election that NDP leader Jack Layton called “a referendum on Afghanistan”. Could it be that the continued failure of the Liberals to show some backbone and promise an immediate withdrawal of troops left voters too depressed and resigned to bother turning out this time? Could it be the aggressive lobbying of the Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC) and the virtual silence of the Zionist-controlled media that is the problem?

Instead, the Liberals campaigned on the environment, and deservedly suffered their worst electoral showing in a quarter century. Knives are now drawn by pretenders to the mild-mannered, bookish Dion, including Michael Ignatieff, a sometime Canadian but better known as a neo-con British writer who even supported the invasion of Iraq, and Bob Rae, ex-socialist, whose wife just happens to be vice-president of the CJC. Yikes. What if they hold another election and no one bothers to show up at all?

The stranglehold on foreign policy which the Zionists have is clearer than ever this time round in the US. Early worries by American Jews that Obama wasn’t sufficiently pro-Israel prompted Obama to travel to Israel to vow his unwavering support and to choose as his running mate Senator Joe Biden, an outspoken Zionist (“You don’t have to be Jewish to be a Zionist”). At the vice presidential debate, the sparring to outdo each other reached ridiculous heights with Sarah Palin’s comment: “I’m so encouraged to know that we both love Israel, and I think that is a good thing to get to agree on.”

While most Americans are so inundated with pro-Israeli and anti-Arab propaganda they don’t openly question the extreme bias in their foreign policy, they know something is seriously wrong with the state of the union — 91 percent, last count. However, they are again being served up virtually identical foreign policies by the two candidates. Could despair be one of the reasons so many Americans don’t bother to vote?

The other poison infecting the US electoral system is the specter of rigged elections. Fortunately for Canadians, the Conservatives don’t have a monopoly on voting machines, like the Republicans. Voter fraud in the US, including dubious voting machine tallies and illegal disqualification of thousands of poor and black voters has been well documented in the past three presidential elections. Among early voters this time, there have already been dozens of complaints that the touch-screen voting machines moved voters’ ticks from Obama to McCain. In Alabama, scores of voters have been labeled convicted felons on the basis of incorrect lists. Michigan must restore thousands of names it illegally removed from voter rolls over residency questions, a judge ruled this week. Officials in Wisconsin admit that their database is wrong one out of five times when it flags voters, mistakenly rejecting tens of thousands.

Obama’s new voter registration campaign ACORN has put more than 1.3 million new voters on lists. But the Republicans have accused it of fraud and succeeded in launching an FBI probe into ACORN, called by Obama’s campaign an “unholy alliance” with the Republicans. Obama called for a special prosecutor to investigate any claims of registration fraud. In Ohio, the US Supreme Court overturned a lower court order that required extra information on these eager new — Democratic — voters, which could invalidate up to 200,000 voters. The Republicans immediately launched an appeal. Given the odds, unless Obama leads by at least 10 percent next month, he will likely “lose”.

No matter who inhabits the White House next year, both the US and Canadian electoral systems will continue to fester as long as foreign policy remains in the Zionist vice. At least the Obama factor has empowered blacks and liberals and has brought to life an otherwise moribund campaign. Ralph Nader, the only honest candidate, will finish a distant third, but has at least been able to act as America’s conscience. Canada’s NDP gained a healthy eight seats this time, bringing their total to 37 and they will play a key role in keeping the minority Conservative government from undoing what’s left of Canada’s welfare state. Such faint but important voices are all that keeps faith in democracy alive these days across the Atlantic. Perhaps eventually the forces they represent will be able to pick up the pieces of the shattered political system.

Eric Walberg is a journalist who worked in Uzbekistan and is now writing for Al-Ahram Weekly in Cairo. He is the author of From Postmodernism to Postsecularism and Postmodern Imperialism. His most recent book is Islamic Resistance to Imperialism. Read other articles by Eric, or visit Eric's website.