Friday, April 20, 2007

Is Sinn Fein abstentionism a legitimate political strategy?

I sometimes get phone calls or correspondence from fellow cranks, following publication of a letter in one of the newspapers.

My recent go at the Shinners in the Examiner has generated a couple of letters from a Dublin man who claims that Sinn Fein MPs who are elected as abstentionists would violate their electoral mandate if they took their seats in Westminster.

Technically correct perhaps, but I don’t accept that abstentionism is a legitimate political tactic in Northern Ireland since the constitutional position was settled by the Good Friday Agreement in 1997.

The reality of abstentionism is that it totally disenfranchises those electors who voted for another party or didn’t choose to exercise their right to vote.

In the 2005 Westminster elections, Sinn Fein got 24.3% of the total vote in Northern Ireland, winning 5 of the 18 seats in the province.

West Belfast: Gerry Adams won 70% of the votes cast. Turnout was 66%, so he was elected by 46% of the total electorate.

Mid-Ulster: Martin McGuinness won 48% of the votes cast. Turnout was 73%, so he was elected by 35% of the total electorate.

Newry & Armagh: Conor Murphy won 41% of the votes cast. Turnout was 71%, so he was elected by 29% of the total electorate.

West Tyrone: Pat Doherty won 39% of the votes cast. Turnout was 72%, so he was elected by 28% of the total electorate.

Fermanagh & South Tyrone: Michelle Gildernew won 38% of the votes cast. Turnout was 71%, so she was elected by 27% of the total electorate.

In summary, even assuming that everyone voting Sinn Fein supported the policy of abstention (which I personally doubt) , Sinn Fein cannot claim to have received endorsement of this strategy by a majority of the electorate in any of the 5 constituencies above. Indeed, only Gerry Adams comes anywhere close to that position, the other four MPs can only claim support of one-third or less of their constituents. Meanwhile, in each of these constituencies the majority of the electorate now have no representation in Westminster.


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