Tuesday, August 19, 2008

A fixed term?

Writing in the Herald, Colin James challenges National to make a serious reform to our democracy: rather than changing the electoral system in a blatantly self-serving and anti-democratic manner, they should instead commit to a fixed election date and remove the Prime Ministerial prerogative to dissolve Parliament at will.

This is one of James' pet topics, and its a good idea. Not just because it would prevent the triennial frenzied speculation from our political journalists over exactly when the poll will be (which, last time at least, turned out to be exactly when the government had been suggesting it would be - and it looks like the same will happen this time), but also because it would prevent attempts to manipulate the outcome by manipulating the timing of the election. But even more importantly than that, it would also prevent parties from attempting to subvert the will of the people if they don't like the coalition prospects we have saddled them with.

Sadly, that's exactly why the autocratic, majority-government-or-nothing National Party is likely to oppose such a move. Quite part from their ingrained hostility to any form of power-sharing - something made plain by their hatred of MMP - they also have a proven desire to manipulate the timing of elections to their advantage. As revealed in The Hollow Men, in 2005 National explicitly pursued a "two-election strategy", fundraising for two elections in the belief that any post-election coalition - theirs or Labour's - would quickly fall apart. This would leave them as "the only party with millions of dollars ready to fight a new campaign" and therefore "well set up to win". Such thinking is unlikely to have disappeared from the National party, and it suggests we could be in for interesting times if they form a government but fail to win absolute power.