|Andrew Little : Propping up a failed electoral system.|
Making it easier to vote won’t make the system any more representative or democratic.
REGARDLESS OF THE SQUABBLE occurring between Labour and National about whether allowing folk to enrol and vote on election day itself tilts the playing field in favour of Labour, what neither camp acknowledges is that it doesn't actually matter what time people vote - they will still be presented with a slate of parliamentary candidates all committed to maintaining the neoliberal status quo.
The differences between 'centre left' and 'centre right' are minimal. While Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is making the case for democratic socialism in the United States and Jeremy Corbyn is doing something similar in Britain, all we're being offered in New Zealand is the unappetising and uninspiring gruel of centrism.
The Minister of Justice Andrew Little says the change will 'enhance' democracy but this is the man who once characterised the mild social democratic policies of the Alliance as 'extreme'. Making it easier for people to vote is rendered inconsequential when it doesn't matter which party people vote for, neoliberalism still wins.
But in the self-interested world of mercenary electoral politics this fact appears incomprehensible to many. It certainly is to many Labour Party supporters whose main concern at the moment seems to be attacking National's Nick Smith for suggesting that the change screws the scrum in favour of Labour. Maybe it does. Maybe it doesn't. Who really cares when the same team - neoliberalism- always wins in the end? It's not that the playing field has been tilted in favour of one parliamentary party or other - the playing field has been tilted dramatically in favour of the political establishment. For the Green Party's Golriz Ghahraman to suggest that the move to allow people to enroll on election day will 'strengthen' our democracy can only be interpreted as the view of someone who is benefiting from the present failed system - benefiting by a rather large six figure salary.
I've always argued that we live in a representative democracy that is neither representative or democratic and that's the reason why I choose not to vote. But I'm not alone in my opinion. Beyond the noise of the The Commentariat, cheerleading for the political status quo, there are hundred of thousands of New Zealanders who generally feel the same way. That's why they don't vote either. But this active protest has been arrogantly interpreted by the political establishment as 'apathy'.
In 2014, almost a million New Zealanders didn't vote show up at the polling booth and it was little better in 2017. Almost 700,000 didn't vote. The disconnect is substantial.
In its report after the 2014 ballot, the Electoral Commission was moved to comment:
'Turnout has been in decline in most developed democracies over the last 30 years, but New Zealand's decline has been particularly steep and persistent.'
Making it easier to vote doesn't make the process any more democratic.
A huge chunk of those eligible to vote simply no longer identify with the parliamentary parties on offer because they recognise that none of them really represent their interests. Potential voters feel more alienated from traditional political institutions than perhaps ever before. When they look at decisions made by politicians, they don’t see their preferences reflected in them.
Even election campaigns have become tightly controlled affairs, managed by opposing teams of spin doctors. The role of the electorate is merely to be passive consumers rather than active participants. Representative democracy has been reduced to simply voting - and if you don't like what's on offer then the best way to protest is not to vote at all.
It's also hardly likely that the 2017 election has convinced many non-voters that voting is worth it. After all they have watched the Labour leader campaign on a platform of 'change' and 'transformation' but revert to type once safely installed in office. Jacinda Ardern promised change but has instead delivered more of the same. She and her government have not been a good advertisement for representative democracy.