Showing posts with label Democracy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Democracy. Show all posts

Monday, September 22, 2014



Deranged

Saturday's result was a shock for the left. And for some, it was apparently so shocking that it can only have been the result of fraud. So they're petitioning the head of the Electoral Commission for a recount.

Naturally, they present no evidence - just their feeling that "something doesn't seem right", and that the result "makes no sense". Scarily, over 7,600 people agree with them.

This is utterly deranged. Any fraud would have to be widespread, across multiple polling places and districts. There would be evidence. And the thousands of party activists who volunteered to scrutinise the poll and the count would be speaking up about it. As would the electoral commission staff, returning officers and poll workers. Democracy goes deep in New Zealand, and people of all parties would be affronted by attempts to undermine it. Its just not the New Zealand way.

But the dumbest thing: every New Zealand election already receives a full recount (during which special votes are counted and the rolls are scrutinised to detect dual voting and failed personation). Only after that do the results become official. And after that, there's a whole judicial recount process if anyone has any concerns.

Still, there's a small mercy: at least they're not petitioning the Governor-General in the misguided belief that they have any constitutional role on this...

The threshold has to go

Another election, and once again we've been reminded of the unfairness the two major parties built into MMP in an effort to stack it for themselves and prevent competition. ACT got 14,510 votes and one seat in Parliament, while the Conservatives got 86,616 votes - almost six times as many - and none. While I do not like the Conservatives, that is not fair and it is not right.

This is not about the "electorate lifeboat" (which this election benefited the Maori Party and no-one else). It is about the threshold. It is an anti-democratic measure whose sole effect is to limit political competition and silence small parties unless they are lucky enough to win an electorate seat (or, in the case of ACT and United Future, be patronised by a larger one). We've seen that small parties can function effectively in Parliament as a voice for their voters, and we've seen that this doesn't affect the stability of the government one bit (to the contrary - a plurality of options means the government has an easier time passing legislation). And the counterfactual cases show that there is nothing to be afraid of here (though of course people would vote differently in such cases, just as they voted differently when their votes counted under MMP). There is simply no reasonable argument for maintaining such an anti-democratic measure in a democracy. The threshold has to go!

Sunday, September 21, 2014



A trifecta of electoral suck

This week has been a trifecta of electoral suck. First, Fiji voted for dictatorship. Then Scotland voted to remain subjugated to Westminster. And finally, New Zealand voted for a third-term majority National government.

The last boggles me. Not the fact of National's victory - that was expected, despite my hopes. But the fact that their vote went up, and delivered them an absolute majority on election night. The public appears to have endorsed National's dirty politics. And that's horrifying.

With a third term and an absolute majority (or, if they loose a seat on the specials, a de facto one from their ACT poodle), I doubt National will feel constrained by the moderation it has been forced to practice thus far. We've seen privatisation and assaults on the education system, the RMA and worker's rights. We can expect more. And we can expect the cuts to social support and working for families National has always wanted to make. Its not going to be pleasant to be poor or even middle class in New Zealand for the next three years. But it'll be great to be a millionaire banker like the Prime Minister. We won't get action on climate change. We won't get action on inequality and child poverty. We won't get measures to deflate the housing bubble and allow kiwis to own their own homes again. But the rich will get a tax cut in 2017, funded by increased misery for the poor. Because at the end of the day, that's what National stands for.

I don't expect Labour to provide credible opposition to this. They've had an influx of right-wing cuckoo electorate MPs to add to the usual suspects, and so they'll spend the next three years engaged in the same division and backbiting they've wasted the last three on. Instead, the heavy lifting will be left - again - to the Greens. They underperformed as well this election, but at least have held their own against the landslide. So they'll spend another three years winning the argument and reshaping the policy landscape in their image. Its not change, but it lays the foundations for the future. And hopefully, one day, we'll get to see those policies in action.

Still, every cloud has a silver lining: a majority National government means that I get three more years of easy bloggage. I'd rather I didn't though.

Friday, September 19, 2014



Noo!

Scotland went to the polls in a referendum on independence yesterday, and while the last results are still coming in, appear to have voted "no". Its not the result I wanted, but the people have spoken.

In the leadup to the poll, the British establishment promised that a "no" vote would result in more devolution to Scotland, and independence in all but name. Now they need to deliver on that promise. Sadly, I have no faith in the establishment to do the right thing here. The Tories are already backing away from it, and seem to want to use the referendum as an excuse to cut Scotland's funding and punish them for trying to leave. Which just means they'll find themselves facing another referendum in six or ten year's time - and this time people won't believe their promises.

Meanwhile, its worth reflecting on the positive here: on current results the referendum had the highest turnout of any vote in the UK since records began, just pipping the 1950 general election's record of 83.9%. Even if that drops, its a triumph for democracy and grassroots campaigning. It turns out that if you give people something worth voting for, they will. Hopefully, the UK's political parties will learn something from this too, rather than continuing to offer three different shades of the same NeoLiberal shit sandwich.

Vote

Today is Suffrage Day, the 121st anniversary of the day women won the right to vote in New Zealand. Its rightfully a day on which we celebrate our democratic heritage (and it should be a public holiday, dammit).

Its also the last day of the 2014 general election campaign.

Whatever the result, the campaign has already been a tremendous success for democracy, with over 550,000 advance votes recorded. Add in today, and we're looking at anywhere from 700 to 800 thousand - over 20% of the entire electorate. Its a tremendous level of engagement, and it shows the value of the New Zealand way of making voting easy.

In previous elections, I've pushed people to party vote left. It doesn't matter which of Labour, the Greens, or Internet-Mana you vote for, because any of them will support a change in government and a dramatic shift in policy. As for myself, I'll be voting Green again. I seriously considered Internet-Mana, because I want to see the internet freedom agenda (and Laila Harre's left-wing take on it) represented in Parliament. But in the end, I like the Green lineup better than theirs. I'll give my electorate vote to Iain Lees-Galloway, because I like him both as an electorate and Labour MP (and Jono Naylor is corrupt and dishonest). Your mileage may vary, of course. But no matter what your political opinions, vote. Your voice may be one in 3.4 million, but it still matters. As Kate Sheppard said,

Do not think your single vote does not matter much. The rain that refreshes the parched ground is made up of single drops

Keep that in mind on election day.

Because of the "no campaigning on the day" rule, I won't be blogging or tweeting on election day. I'll be tweeting after 19:00, and I'll probably post something on Sunday once the results sink in a bit.

Our democracy is at stake

Another day, another story about the National government's corrupt abuse of the OIA - this time from Customs:

A former high-ranking Customs lawyer says he resigned from his job after allegedly being told to bury information that could embarrass the Government.

Curtis Gregorash said he was told by senior Customs executives to refuse Official Information Act and Privacy Act requests, which he believed was at the direction of former Customs Minister Maurice Williamson.

[...]

"The direction came down (from the minister) through the CEO (Carolyn Tremain) and group manager (of legal services) Peter Taylor to me saying 'you don't release anything - I don't care what the OIA says, I'd rather fight it in the courts'."

Mr Gregorash said it was as if ministers were prepared to say: "F*** the OIA, I'd rather fight it through the Ombudsman because it takes three years."

Mr Gregorash said the alleged instruction came during a briefing from Mr Taylor to the legal team in which he referred to Ms Tremain and meeting with Mr Williamson.

"I resigned over it. I couldn't stare my staff in the face and say this is actually serious conduct that's being presented to you in a lawful way."


As the Ombudsman points out, our democracy is at stake here. The OIA is a vital tool for scrutinising politicians and holding them to account. But it, and its oversight mechanism, work on trust. As a requester, I have to trust that officials will apply the law and not ignore it. And the Ombudsman herself trusts officials to giver her the full information when someone complains, and to work in good faith with her in negotiating complaints. The idea that an entire department has been instructed by its Minister to just ignore the law strikes at the heart of that, and undermines the entire system. And what it shows is that a) we need a more robust OIA system, where agencies can be compelled to surrender information; and b) we desperately, desperately need to clean our democratic house.

Thursday, September 18, 2014



Scotland decides

The polls open in Scotland's independence referendum in a little over two hours. The British establishment has pulled out all the stops in an effort to terrorise and bully the Scots into staying part of the UK, even threatening that they wouldn't be able to watch Dr Who anymore (because people outside the UK apparently can't, and Hadrian's Wall stops TV broadcasts as well as invading Picts). Meanwhile, the "yes" campaign has run a positive campaign focused on appealing to people's hopes and aspirations. As a result, the Scots are hugely engaged in this decision, 97% of them are enrolled, and turnout is expected to be huge. Strangely, if you give people something worth voting for, rather than a choice of three "different" packs of corrupt NeoLiberals, they vote. Who'd have thunk it?

The result at this stage is too close to call - the polls have a narrow lead for "no", but its statistically insignificant, and with the turnout, its anyone's game. But no matter which way Scotland votes, the UK is going to be different tomorrow. The British establishment has united to offer Scotland further devolution, and this has put it on the agenda for other regions of the UK as well. Its also produced a nasty backlash from English imperialists, who want to punish the Scots if they vote "no" (no, I don't understand the logic either). The UK can't avoid discussing its constitution now, and that struggle will be fascinating to watch (but posisbly not pleasant for those experiencing it). And if Scotland votes "yes", a new country will be born, and a despised Tory Prime Minister will probably fall...

A hole in our democratic protections

There's been a couple of stories in the media over the last few days about voting by the intellectually disabled, focusing on the risk of abuse. The right, as always, are using this as an argument to limit the franchise by imposing a competency test (at which point we should keep in mind that many of them are quite open in their belief that anyone who doesn't vote for ACT is literally insane and cannot be trusted to vote "properly"). Meanwhile, they've missed the bigger problem:

In Hamilton, Bupa Rossendale and Dementia Care Hospital manager Adriana Ciolpan said their 90 residents were deemed incompetent by medical professionals and could not vote.

"Medically, they are not deemed able to vote. They are all under power of attorney," Ciolpan said.

"We follow legal requirements.

"We can't make them vote. We cannot accept voting papers for them because we don't want someone else to abuse them. They have been deemed incompetent and that's a legal document," she said.

"All the letters we receive, we send them back saying they're incompetent and can't vote. It should be the same everywhere," Ciolpan said. "But if they are not deemed incompetent by a doctor, we cannot stop them from voting."


Andrew Geddis thinks this is OK because those affected lack the requisite intention to vote. Which may or may not be true depending on the particular individual. But there's also the fact that electoral enrolment is compulsory and failing to do so is a crime. And by doing this, this hospital is making criminals of its residents.

And this exposes a bigger problem. I looked in vain for a clause in the Electoral Act which made preventing someone from registering to vote a crime, and could not find one. And this is a huge hole in our democratic protections. We rightly protect the right to vote with the secret ballot and protection from intimidation; we do this because in the past the rich have threatened to punish the poor for voting against them, or for voting at all. But they don't need to do any of that if they can just stop you from registering as an elector. Clearly, we need to protect the right to register in the same way.

Fiji: Voting for dictatorship

Fijians went to the polls yesterday in the first democratic elections in eight years. And with slightly more than half the ballots counted, it looks like they've given dictator Voreqe Bainimarama a clear majority. There's been no allegations of fraud, so it looks like the result is the clear will of the Fijian people.

I'm appalled. I thought Fijians were better than that. Bainimarama seized power at gunpoint, silenced the media, and used intimidation, beatings and torture to retain power. And Fijians voted for him? I guess you get the government you deserve...

Wednesday, September 17, 2014



Taking a stand against dirty politics

A month ago, Nicky Hager published Dirty Politics, and set this election on fire. Today, over 2,100 people took a stand against the dirty politics he revealed, through a crowdfunded full-page ad in the Herald

dirtypoliticsad

(Image stolen from @DirtyPoliticsNZ)

Collectively, we're calling for a royal commission into dirty politics, the restoration of democracy in Canterbury, freedom of speech for academics and community leaders, better public broadcasting, and better freedom of information laws. Hopefully, the next government will listen.

Fiji votes

Fijians are heading to the polls today in the first elections since the 2006 coup. Good - Fiji deserves an elected government, not an unelected dictator. But the dictator is fighting hard to stop it. There's the weird ballot paper seemingly designed to frustrate voters, the disqualification of opposition candidates, and a pre-election media blackout which in practice applies only to the opposition. And of course, there's the ultimate threat: if voters don't rubberstamp the dictator, he'll just launch another coup.

The polls close at six, but full results could take up to a week. But hopefully we'll have an indication well before then of whether Fiji has voted to rid itself of its dictator, or entrench him.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014



Advance voting again

Another day, more incredible advance voting statistics:

advance_voting_stats_15_09

287,735 of us have already voted. And with four days to go, I think we can safely assume that it will reach 650,000. Which on current enrolment figures, means almost 20% of the potential electorate will have voted in advance.

Historically, advance votes have tended to swing right. But with twice as many as before, its anyone's guess. Its also anyone's guess how much of this represents increased turnout versus people getting it done early. But I'd guess that we're probably going to see a slight bump in turnout, perhaps as much as 5%. Which should be good news no matter who you support.

Monday, September 15, 2014



The left returns in Sweden

Swedes went to the polls yesterday to elect a new Parliament - and returned the left to power after eight years of right-wing government. The reason? The right's assault on social democracy was a betrayal of Swedish values:

Many Swedes are worried that reforms under Reinfeldt have gone too far, weakening healthcare, allowing business to profit from schools at the expense of results and dividing a nation that has prided itself on equality into haves and have-nots.

Voters have been shocked by scandals over privately-run state welfare – including one case where carers at an elderly home were reportedly weighing diapers to save money – and bankruptcies of privately run schools.

"We need to re-find our values, those that say we take care of each other, that it is not all about the rich getting it better," said Sofia Bolinder, playing with her young daughter in a playground after voting in the suburb of Skarpnack in southern Stockholm. Bolinder, in her 30s, said she voted for a party "on the left".


But its not going to be easy. Sweden has a pariah party - the racist, anti-immigrant Swedish Democrats - which no-one will deal with. And as they won 13% of the vote, minority government is inevitable. Normally that would be easy, due to Nordic consensus seeking, but the outgoing government is playing hardball. So coalition negotiations are going to be difficult...

Friday, September 12, 2014



Protecting privatisation

Privatisation has a problem: democracy. Contracts written by one government can be cancelled by the next. This is obviously bad for the profits of government cronies. But in the UK, they've hit upon a solution: poison pill "penalty payments" for cancellation:

Taxpayers will face a £300m-£400m penalty if controversial probation privatisation contracts are cancelled after next May's general election under an "unprecedented" clause that guarantees bidders their expected profits over the 10-year life of the contract.

Labour is already committed to unpicking the justice ministry contracts to outsource probation services but will not now be able to do so without incurring the multimillion pound bill because of "poison pill" clauses written in by Chris Grayling's department.

The Ministry of Justice say they are only following Treasury guidance by including the clause, which raises the prospect that similar clauses are being included in other politically controversial contracts across Whitehall that are to be signed before next May's general election.


This is an obscene attempt to undermine the democratic process, and it exposes these contracts for what they are: a means to hand out money to government cronies. But fortunately there's a solution to them: legislation. The question is whether UK Labour has the spine to do that, or whether it will continue to collaborate in the privatisation agenda. And sadly, I think we all know what the answer will be...

Tuesday, September 09, 2014



Take a stand for clean politics

Want to speak out about dirty politics? Action Station - a kiwi attempt at Avaaz - is running an open letter in the Herald next week. They're looking for people to sign it - and people to help pay for it (note: email them for a bank account number if its easier).

I think this is an important issue. Politics does not have to be dirty, and the presence of this sort of activity here is a disease within our democracy. The best way to eradicate that disease is to let politicians know - with our voices and our votes - that we will not tolerate it. So, if you don't like it, speak up - because the politicians will treat your silence as consent.

A success for advance voting

Back in 2010, Parliament changed the law around advance voting. Where previously you had to make a statutory declaration that you would be unable to vote on election day, now you could just go ahead and do it. The result was predictable: in 2011, advance votes rose from 236,000 to 287,000 - 12.5% of the total.

This year, voters are smashing that record. After only 5 days, over 70,000 people have already advance-voted - an increase of 150 percent over last election. If this trend continues, we could easily see half a million advance voters, and over 20% of us casting our votes in advance.

As for why, there's definitely greater knowledge of the law this time round. But there's also a definite "vote early" campaign from the left, as part of their general get out the vote efforts. The question is how much of it represents an increase in turnout versus people simply getting it done early. We won't know until election day, but given that increased turnout tends to favour the left, the government might be getting nervous about now. Which means its probably only a matter of time before we start seeing the usual right-wing suspects calling for restoring restrictions on early voting...

Monday, September 08, 2014



A political earthquake in the UK

Over the weekend, a political earthquake struck the UK, with a poll reporting that Scotland's "yes" campaign was ahead for the first time. The English establishment's threats and fearmongering have failed, and a positive vision of Scotland's future looks like it will triumph.

Which means more headless chicken behaviour from the establishment. Suddenly, out of nowhere, there's a new devolution package, with wide powers of taxation and legislation so long as Scotland lets London dictate its policy on capital gains and inheritance taxes and nuclear weapons. Which tells you everything you need to know about London's priorities. But as Alex Salmond points out, introducing it at this stage, when hundreds of thousands have already voted, is simply desperate. If England really wants to recast the relationship this way, why didn't they say so earlier?

Whichever way the vote goes, the UK as we know it is finished. Whether Scotland stays or goes, the UK is going to have to offer increased powers to its constituent nations, allowing them to effectively free themselves from the control of London and its parasitical bankers. And that can only be a good thing.

Friday, September 05, 2014



Another reason to support Scottish independence

UK Prime Minister David Cameron has denied (for a second time) that he will resign if Scotland votes for independence:

Asked on BBC Radio 4's Today programme whether he would resign, Cameron said: "I think it's very important to say no to that emphatically for this reason: that what is at stake is not this prime minister or that prime minister, or this party leader or that party leader. What is at stake is the future of Scotland … I think it is very important for people in Scotland to realise the consequence of their vote is purely and simply about Scotland and its place in the United Kingdom.

"We shouldn't try and tie up in this vote the future of Alex Salmond or me."


Except it is, and his own party says so: Tory MPs are planning to roll him if he "loses" Scotland. So, a vote for independence is also a vote to sack Cameron. Which sounds like a nice combination.

Meanwhile, the Conservatives are now trying to reassure Scottish voters by playing down their chances of winning the next UK election. They know they're unpopular (infamously, Scotland has more pandas than tory MPs), and that fear and hatred of them and their plans to make the UK even more unequal is driving people to vote for independence to protect Scotland's social democracy. But "never mind, we might not win the next election" isn't going to make the long-term values gap between Edinburgh and London (or indeed, between London's bankers and the rest of the UK) disappear. A core problem here is that British democracy is no longer working (if it ever did). It produces unrepresentative governments exercising illegitimate policies. Can you blame the Scots for seeking to escape from that?

Thursday, September 04, 2014



Headless chickens

The possibility of Scottish independence is finally sinking in, and the establishment is now running around like headless chickens. In addition to a new propaganda line of "dirty violent savage Scots can't be trusted to vote peacefully", they're now talking about delaying elections in the rump-UK if Scotland votes "yes":

David Cameron will face calls to take the unprecedented step in modern peacetime of postponing next year's UK general election by 12 months in the event of a vote for Scottish independence to avoid the prospect of a Labour government that would depend on Scottish MPs.

Amid warnings of a "constitutional meltdown" after a yes vote, which would place severe personal political pressure on the prime minister, a growing number of Tory MPs are saying they will call for legislation to be introduced to postpone the general election. It would be the first time since 1940, a year into the second world war, that a general election would have been postponed.

One member of the government said: "You would see very quickly after the referendum calls for a delay in the election. You simply could not have an election that would produce a Labour government supported by Scottish MPs if the Tories had a majority in the rest of the UK. So you would say: OK Alex Salmond wants to negotiate the break up by March 2016. So we will have a general election on the new Britain in May 2016."


There's a constitutional point here, in that the legitimacy of those Scottish MPs ends the day Scotland leaves the UK. But there's also a huge helping of partisanship, given away by the focus on the prospect of a Labour government, which taints the entire thing. And there are other obvious solutions: the next UK Parliament could dissolve early, rather than the current one sitting long. Or they could legislate so that all Scottish MPs were deprived of their seats when independence came into effect. It doesn't have to be a case of "vote 'no' or English democracy gets it".

Meanwhile, if you're wondering how it has come to this, the BBC's Andrew Little has a fascinating essay on the history of Scottish independence and how the two nations have grown apart. The short version: its not Scotland which has changed, but London, and the Scots want out as a result.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014



Will Scotland vote for independence?

Two days before our election, Scotland will go to the polls in a referendum on independence. And after months of "no" enjoying a wide lead, the polls are suddenly narrowing, and the English establishment is freaking out at the thought that another of their colonies might leave them.

And as George Monbiot points out in The Guardian, they'd be mad not to:

So what would you say about a country that sacrificed its sovereignty without collapse or compulsion; that had no obvious enemies, a basically sound economy and a broadly functional democracy, yet chose to swap it for remote governance by the hereditary elite of another nation, beholden to a corrupt financial centre?

What would you say about a country that exchanged an economy based on enterprise and distribution for one based on speculation and rent? That chose obeisance to a government that spies on its own citizens, uses the planet as its dustbin, governs on behalf of a transnational elite that owes loyalty to no nation, cedes public services to corporations, forces terminally ill people to work and can’t be trusted with a box of fireworks, let alone a fleet of nuclear submarines? You would conclude that it had lost its senses.


A vote for Scottish independence is a vote for freedom: freedom from spies, freedom from bankers, and above all, freedom from the Tories. And its great to see the Scots are waking up and realising this.