The snag in democracy

Federal election day in Australia. Once every three years – well, a little more often than that, due to the government’s desire to keep House and Senate elections in step – we all head off to the polls.

So that’s a fair chunk of democracy right there. The people get a reasonably frequent say, and if we manage to elect a bunch of turkeys, which seems to be the usual setting nowadays, we also get a chance to boot them out again three years later.

Elections for the House of Representatives determines the government. The leader of the largest block – whether party or coalition – gets invited to form a government by the Governor-General.

The Governor-General is that most divine of creatures, a head of state who doesn’t often make headlines. They are about the only participant in the political process to come out of this thing looking good. Everyone else spends the months preceding an election trying not to put their foot in their mouth on the nightly news. A forlorn hope, though if they are lucky, someone even worse will get more airtime.

After today, we’ll most likely have our eighth Prime Minister in eleven years. 2004 was the last time we reëlected a head of government. Everybody else gets one chance and they are gone after the people see them in action.

Australia is blessed with more democracy than most places. Not only do we get the chance of a new government every three years, we also get to rank the candidates in order. Every vote counts, because if a voter’s first choice is eliminated during the count through not having enough support, that voter’s next choice gets the vote passed on at full whack. Until one candidate has more than 50% of the vote, and then they get the job.

So a vote for an independent or minor party candidate isn’t wasted. You can put the two major party candidates at the bottom of your list, if you want. Occasionally an independent will get elected, but generally it’s one of the two big mobs.

We get still more democracy than most countries, as everyone has to vote. It’s not strictly enforced, because unless you go out of your way to make a protest, even the flimsiest of excuses gets accepted. And you don’t have to vote per se, just turn up and get your name crossed off the list. But once people have gone to the effort of trotting down to the local school or wherever, they make an effort to fill in the form.

And it gets better. We have elections on a Saturday, when most people don’t have to work. The election commission busts a gut to make sure that everyone has a convenient polling place, everybody is on the roll, and electorate boundaries aren’t gerrymandered to buggery.

The best part of our frequent democracy? The school fundraising committee puts on a barbecue, frying up onions and sausages, and sells them on a slice of bread with sauce at a dollar a pop. Saturday morning is the busiest time, and you’d have to have a stomach of stone not to succumb to the smell of frying onions and burning offal, and fling a buck in the direction of the Parents and Citizens manning the burners.

Something about a hot snag with onions and grease and tomato sauce squirted on in abundance. In Australia, that’s democracy.

And then we go home and watch the election count on the telly, seeing the commentators grappling with the technology, watching the politicians reveal a bit of honesty after the hard lying of the campaign, and hoping that the clowns we elected this time will do a better job than the last crowd.

Oh well. In three years time we get to boot out those who haven’t been forced to resign in the meantime.


Photo by Kaboompics .com from Pexels

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