Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Voting until they get it right

Last February, Tokelau voted in a formal act of self-determination to remain part of New Zealand. This wasn't what MFAT was expecting - they wanted Tokelau to opt for self-government, so as to get the UN off their backs about colonialism - so they came up with a simple solution: the Tokelauans would vote again until they got it right.

The next act of this embarassing parody of democracy will take place in two weeks' time, with the final count on October 25. And this time, the Tokelauans are expected to make the "right" choice. But what if they don't? What if, once again, a majority support self-government but it fails to make the 66% threshold? Will MFAT force them to vote again next year as well, or will they accept that the time just isn't right yet, and wait a few more years for public opinion to shift that little bit further?

There's a mirror here of our republic debate: Tokelau already effectively has self-government simply by virtue of geography (just as we are already a de facto republic). The vote is purely about symbolism - about whether to cast off the virtually nonexistent colonial yoke and become formally independent (twink out the distant Queen and put our government on a fully democratic basis), or keep the status quo. Either way, it will make little practical difference to people's lives or the way the country is governed - the main one being a change of flag. And that doesn't really result in people being highly motivated to vote for change. But I'd hope that when the time comes for New Zealand to vote on ditching the monarchy, we'd do it properly, and accept the result (at least for a couple of electoral cycles), rather than forcing the public to go back to the polls year after year until we produce the "right" result.