16 August, 2010

Compulsory democracy...an oxymoron???

Mark Latham is up to his usual silliness in the week leading up to the election. He is encouraging people to vote 'informally'.

He says 'They say voting is compulsory in Australia but it's not compulsory to fill out the ballot paper, you can put it straight into the ballot box totally blank. That's what I'll be doing on Saturday and I urge you to do the same.'

In an article (link below) from the Sydney Morning Herald, Jacqueline Maley comments on the immaturity of his stance. "No matter how disillusioned we become with the political process, the soullessness of election campaigns, the mindless slogans and the baby-kissing, the moment we decide to vote informally is the moment we weaken our democracy." She rightly goes on to point out the lengths individuals will go through in oppressive regimes to get to the ballet box, some risking death and persecution in both the demanding of free and fair elections, and in the voting process itself. "Elderly villagers queueing to vote in the first free East Timorese election in 2001. The great civil rights marches of the American south. The felling of the Berlin wall. (As an addendum, it was after the sabotage by militia groups of that 2001 East Timorese election that the Australian government sent in troops: the ultimate expression of how strongly we value the right to vote.)"

Elections are one of the foundations of the democratic process, and a component that we must not take for granted. As helpless as I feel right now over the treatment of asylum seekers, of our indigenous mothers and fathers, of our very earth, at least I know I can go to the local primary school and make my voice heard on Saturday. Is there a party I can vote for the resembles exactly what I think should happen? No. But the very act of voting reminds me that the power to vote, to advocate, to rebuke, to choose is the accountability politicians need to ensure the foundational principles of our country, as enshrined in our constitution, are maintained. The minute we fail to see the power of the free voice in Australia, we begin to allow power to clot where is should be free flowing. Encouraging people to devalue their vote encourages people to devalue their freedom. Latham's comments aren't too problematic as I am pretty sure that nobody listens to him, but still, one has to wonder how he entered politics (and with relative success) with this perspective.

I am however often challenged by those outside Australia who assert that the democratic value of free elections is somewhat devalued when made compulsory. Its a good debating point, but with such a small population, Australia needs a compulsory vote to legitimise the process. Maybe when we start letting more 'boat people' in we will be able to stay home on election day :-)

Bottom line...vote. And vote according to the parties values, and not the flashy media issue of the month. Never underestimate the gift of freedom you have, and exercise that gift for the benefit of those in need, and not just for yourself.

The link for the full article is at http://www.smh.com.au/federal-election/lathams-blank-vote-blather-from-mouth-of-truculent-teen-20100816-125ns.html?autostart=1

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1 comment:

Christop said...

I agree that Mark Latham's suggestion is immature, but I think that some others who refuse to vote make some good points. I think Dave Fagg makes a much better argument for not voting in this article: http://www.seeds.org.au/content/documents/Christianity,%20the%20vote%20and%20social%20change.pdf