This autumn marks major events for both Montenegro and the United States. Montenegrins and Americans alike will participate in every democracy’s most important rite of passage: casting a vote to elect their leaders. Elections are always important because they represent the voice of every citizen in a democracy. That is certainly true this year when citizens in both of our countries will have the opportunity to make clear statements about who they want to lead them and what they want for their country in the future.
Voting should never be taken lightly. Voting is not just a right, it is a responsibility. Former U.S. Congressman Walter Judd noted that decisions in democracies are not made by a majority of the people, but rather by “a majority of those who make themselves heard and who vote – a very different thing.” Sadly, in the United States voter turnout in 2012 was only 57.5%, down from 62.3% in 2008. This is much lower than in Montenegro where 70.6% of voters cast a ballot in the last parliamentary elections. I hope Montenegrins continue to take their duties as citizens seriously and that more of my fellow American citizens will participate in this year’s election.
It is also vitally important that all voices in a society be heard. Regardless of race, age, creed, or ethnic background, every citizen has an equal vote. President Obama received many accolades for his success in mobilizing young voters and minorities, groups that previously had not voted in large numbers. In the lead-up to this year’s U.S. elections, both political parties have increased their efforts to attract minority and younger voters. The U.S. is stronger because of our diversity and we strive to include all voices in our government. Both Montenegro and the U.S. are multi-ethnic democracies and our governments should represent everyone. It is up to you to cast your vote to ensure this happens.
Another key issue in this year’s U.S. presidential campaign has been the role of the media. Some critics in the U.S. have claimed that media outlets aren’t treating all the candidates equally or that they aren’t checking the accuracy of the candidates’ statements sufficiently. A free press is fundamental to any democracy, but it also needs to be responsible. Journalists have great power to influence society, and with that power comes the need to observe a professional codes of ethics and remain objective.
The current campaign in the U.S. has been vigorously contested with the full range of political views being openly and vigorously debated. This kind of passionate political debate is another cornerstone of a strong democracy. However, political campaigns should not become pre-dominantly negative, when debates turn personal and politicians demonize their opponent and their supporters. At the end of the day, once all the votes are counted, we all have to come together to work hard to make our countries a better and safer place.
Regardless of the outcomes of these elections, I know that Montenegro and the United States will remain close allies and strong partners because of our shared democratic values. So please don’t forget – Go vote!
Margaret Ann Uyehara
U.S. Ambassador to Montenegro