Sunday, May 16, 2010

How representative is democracy - Australia & NZ case study

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Its interesting to reflect on just how 'representative' democracy is. I'm 42 years old and have voted once in my life - I think in about 2003-4 for the Australian elections. I wouldn't have done it if they hadn't come looking for me. They also recently tried to get me to sign up recently in NZ, however I told them I don't believe in the concept of representative democracy. So I was interested to assess the interest of other New Zealanders. In NZ, you are required to enrol, however it is voluntary to vote. See Elections NZ for the results from the 2008 election.
That said just 92.4% of NW'ers are enrolled. That's just the numbers enrolled. It is voluntary to vote, and the number of people who vote is just 79.5% based on the last (2008) election. The implication is that over 30% of the NZ population who have the right to vote, but not the obligation think its not worth it. One would wonder given the system.
Now, for those of you who think direct democracy is a good thing, you might want to consider the results of the 2009 referendum in NZ. Of the 92.4% of NZ'ers who are registered to vote, just 50% of them elected to do so.
It would be interesting to talk to these people to find out exactly why they don't vote. Don't expect any of the main political parties to take an interest because clearly they are beholden to a system which preserves the pretense of their 'representativeness'.
The implication of this news is that no party actually has a majority of parliament and thus the right to govern if you accept the logic of democracy. Don't get me wrong or repudiate the idea that 'might makes right', yet its surprising that the electorate preserves this pretense given the highly unimpressive performance of government in all Western democracies.
By no means am I suggesting 'compulsory voting like in Australia. Yes. In Australia, you do not have the 'right to vote', you have the obligation to do so. These clever NZ'ers seem to have seized on the idea that you can't force people to elect people. A right to vote is the right not to give credibility to a bad system of governance.
In Australia, voter participation in elections is far higher at 95% for the 2007 election. There is a $50 fine if you don't enrol, though I must confess that I only voted for the first time in 2005(?), and have no desire to endorse the institution again by voting. I guess I could argue that it was worthwhile just seeing how the process works.
It is very hard to find information on the Australian Electoral Commission website about how many Australian are registered to vote. Interestingly, the participation rate of Australian voters was around 78% (like NZ) until the government made it compulsory I guess in 1924, when it suddenly jumps to the 95% level. In fact, the AEC does not release statistics on voter registration. I can only tell you that I registered once in 2004 because I felt under duress, but I have simply consoled myself with better principles since. There is however other evidence to suggest a good many people are not 'represented' by representative democracy. According to a AEC study:
"The first Australian Election Study, after the 1996 election, showed [just] 74% of respondents supported compulsory voting at federal elections".
That number was the same in a 2001 study. Australia is one of only 19 countries, and only one of a few industrialised countries which enforces voting. Interestingly, the participating rate for voting in the UK is even lower at just 61%. If you consider the number of people not-registered, it is apparent that representative democracy has a credibility problem. The Australian government does not disclose the number of people who 'choose not' to acknowledge its 'mandatory' registration to vote. Many people think that it is only mandatory to register and to mark off your name at the polling booth, but in fact the High Court has ruled that you are obliged to vote unless a court rules that you have a valid and acceptable reason not to vote. i.e. I can logically prove that representative democracy is a sham, so I guess I would be freed from the requirement to go to gaol. But who knows given the 'institutionalised coercion' under this system. Perhaps the government-appointed judges want to make an example out of me. Who can tell under such arbitrary rule. We only know the fascists rule.
Andrew Sheldon

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