Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Our illegitimate Governor-General

Jerry Mateparae was sworn in today as our 20th Governor-General. While official New Zealand is celebrating, I think its worth highlighting the elephant in the room: that our Governor-General, our defacto head of state, has no democratic legitimacy.

Mateparae was not elected, either by us, or by our elected representatives. Instead, he was selected by one man, the Prime Minister, shoulder-tapped like a business crony being gifted a board position. Constitutionally, his powers derive not from us, the people, but from a foreign monarch, a woman whose sole claim to power is who her parents were.

This is not how democracies are supposed to operate. Power, and legitimacy, are supposed to come from below, not from "above". In a democracy, there is no "above".

I'm sure Mateparae will do a fine job, just as his predecessor did. I'm sure he will exercise the responsibilities of his office with care and discretion, and maintain our constitutional conventions. But that cannot paper over the democratic void beneath him.

We need to do something about this, and soon. Fortunately, its easy to fix. Its perfectly possible to shift to an elected - and therefore legitimate - Governor-General within our current constitutional framework. And the sooner we do it, the better.