Friday, July 16, 2010

For fixed election dates

Over on Pundit, Andrew Geddis pushes for a fixed election date as a solution to the Electoral (Finance Reform and Advance Voting) Amendment Bill's stealth rise in spending limits. If the date of the election is fixed, then we can simply start the regulated period 90 days (or longer IMHO) beforehand, rather than effectively from the date the election is called as is proposed. That way our electoral system retains its integrity in the face of big money, and all parties get a level playing field.

But its not just electoral finance rules which suggest a fixed date, but democracy and fairness as well. In New Zealand, we don't elect a government, but a Parliament - and the politicians have to play the hand we deal them. The ability to call elections on a whim undermines this - if the government doesn't like the coalition partners we have saddled it with, it can go to the people; if it thinks they're demanding too much, it can threaten to roll the electoral dice; if relations break down entirely and it is on the verge of being voted out of office, it can dissolve the House and call an election as a final "fuck you" to those who have defeated it.

Outside of coalition squabbles, a Prime Minister can time elections to maximise their chances of returning to office. That's an obvious stacking of the deck in favour of the incumbent.

Fixing the election date removes these problems. It forces politicians to respect our will and play the hand they're dealt. It removes the gun from the government's hand in its negotiations with small parties, preventing them from being so one-sided. It eliminates one advantage of incumbency. And it ensures a level playing field on spending limits.

The UK is moving ahead on this. We should too.

Update: And Andrew has the bill to do it here. Any takers?