My 3 votes

What a transition: from having no political rights as a colonial subject, to find myself with 3 votes after becoming an Australian citizen. Voting is compulsory in Australia; this is an improvement over optional voting, both in terms of applied democracy and in limiting the scope for manipulation.

But, am I empowered politically by exercising a vote at federal, state and local government levels? I do not feel so. Why? For the last 5 centuries or so, in the Western world, political parties have been choosing their candidates for election by registered voters; the membership of Party branches can have, in many instances, a great say in this nomination. By and large, we voters have no say as to the individuals who are to represent us in parliament (or in any other appropriate forum). We just vote for the party of our choice. In Australia, the choice is effectively between Tweedledum and Tweedledee (refer Alice through the Looking Glass). In local government, teams tend to replace political parties.

Who decides the policies? The parties, of course. Do voters have any say in the formulation of policies? Do we have any say in when the sun rises? But … … we can replace the government! One tends to seek to do that, especially when one’s party and representative do not reflect our more urgent needs.

How are the candidates chosen? How would we know? On what criteria are they nominated? Yet another mystery. When I spent 10 years (7 as the chairman) on a trade union committee working for merit protection in the Australian federal public service (later receiving a Meritorious Service Award), we ensured that duty statements and selection criteria were accurate and made explicit; and that assessment and appeal procedures were transparent. I have never heard of such an approach by our political parties in selecting candidates for election!

What indeed are their criteria for selection? Whoever seems to offer the best chance of winning, obviously! What determines the field? I can surely guess! In view of the availability of electoral staff to deal with the public, what are the duties of our elected representatives, apart from voting as told?

So, this is Western democracy! Thus when the West requires certain nations of interest (not the others, especially if they have the resources we need) to display greater human rights, what is asked is that each adult should have a vote in electing political leaders. This should replace tribal leadership with political party leadership. While the voters may be no better off, foreign powers (that’s us) may be better enabled to influence certain national policies in these new ‘democratic’ nations.

Is there a lesson to be learnt from those nations which are democratic but which continue to be led by unreplaceable heads of government or unshakeable political parties?