The cabinet on Wednesday approved a bill abolishing compulsory voting in elections, formally calling it a day on a law that has been inactive for years.
Interior Minister Constantinos Petrides does not expect the bill to increase voter abstention, as the existing law providing that failure to vote is an offence has been inactive for many years.
The bill must be approved by parliament.
To exercise the right to vote has to be just that, a right, not a duty, Petrides said.
“Voting is an expression of the will of citizens. One’s will in a democracy must be free and unaltered. Once it is mandatory then it stops being democratic,” he said.
The bill, Petrides said, is also aimed at harmonising national legislation with that of other EU member states that do not criminalise voter abstention.
“The law has been inactive for many years, as, it is not the intention of the state to prosecute citizens because they do not exercise this right, which must be a right and not an obligation,” Petrides said.
As regards voter abstention, he said that it should not be addressed with ways that are inconsistent with democratic principles.
“Abstention is addressed when the political system itself persuades citizens to participate in the democratic process because they have choices. We do not believe this bill will increase abstention”.
According to the existing law, voting in the elections is obligatory and failure to do so is an offence. If convicted, offenders are subject to a €340 fine.
The provision in question however has been inactive for several years, and there have been no prosecutions for almost two decades.