In reply to 'Reversing our democratic deficit'

18 Jun 2014

Please read Sean's article before mine:

When I read Sean Mallis' article this morning, I was stirred into deep contemplation. Primarily, it found it interesting that Sean did not invoke his personal political philosophy. Indeed, it was only after I completed reading the article (and my long hard think) that I saw the tab on the right hand side which has him self-labelled as 'right-wing'. Perhaps I was wrong to have immediately ascribed him as someone of 'left-wing' principles after he stated that he does "not often agree with David Cameron." In fact, I was definitely wrong. After the local and European elections this May, it seems to me that no longer can we polarise politics into the left and right. This is a time of change, a time when political commentators of all sorts, bloggers and professionals, have come to realise that this could fast become a new era of politics.


But this 'new era of politics' is hindered, hindered by turnout to which Sean ascribes his article towards. Without increases in turnout, this new era will never come, and by 2015/16 we may perhaps return to the entrenched obstinacy of the old left/right spectrum. Like Sean, I am also of the "romantic" view of politics; considering it a "civil duty to vote." But I am also a realist, and, as such, consider Sean’s two ‘radical reforms’ to be somewhat impractical.

To the first, as a republican I am sure that Sean holds the principle of free speech and thought close to heart. And therefore any statutory legislation would surely be a terrible thing, hindering people’s argument and infringing on their liberty. If Sean knows anything about that great American Republican Thomas Jefferson, he will know that he was considerably worried about the effect of an omission of a Bill of Rights in the Constitution in 1789.

To the second point, I have much admiration for Sean. As a republican it must be incredibly difficult to say that we need a new form of government and the possibility of a return to monarchy. With similar honesty, I have to declare that, in contrast, I am a fervent monarchist (that is an understatement). Yet here we have it; a republican arguing for monarchy, and a monarchist saying such a system would be dangerous. The past few days have seen much talk of the 1215 Charter of Magna Carta, and the foundations of our constitutional monarchy. Foundations that I would hate to blow out of the window, almost 800 years in the making. Our history is embedded within that Charter and, in my opinion, we became great with and alongside it. 

Nevertheless, I agree with Sean that something does need to be done to combat the lack of political engagement that we are currently witnessing in the form of "depressing" voter turnout. However, in my view, perhaps it is time that we followed the path of Australia. I have always been skeptical of forced turnout, but if a radical option was explored, it should be this.

I am not saying that compulsory voting is necessarily the correct option to take, and by and large, it most certainly is not the only option to take. But, time and time again we see politicians of all sides expressing their dismay at turnout and stating that this problem needs to be quickly rectified. Yet what are THEY actually doing to resolve the issue themselves? I would argue that they really are not doing a lot. Even if compulsory voting was not voted into law, I feel that the broader issue of political apathy would receive wide publicity. I feel that if this issue was even merely debated in Parliament then there would be wide-ranging political benefits. The issue would come to the forefront of our minds, and would most certainly be commented on- positively or negatively- within the political and public spheres. Indeed, both positive and negative inputs would add to the electorate’s awareness of the issue- which can only be a good thing.

So, it may appear that I am not exactly an avid supporter of forced turnout in itself; that I am merely arguing for the status quo. And to a certain extent I am. But what I really want is debate. Debate on the topic of compulsory voting that would receive widespread political publicity. Perhaps this may impart (an ounce) of fear into the minds of the electorate, who might then decide that this last resort option was not preferable. That fear could then push them to engage with politics and to align themselves with a political party (heck, even to spoil their ballot paper!). So, forced turnout should be used, it should be debated with the proper pros and cons laid out before the electorate. Our situation should be compared to Australia, with the question of democratic consequences comprehensively considered. If this issue was properly discussed, then perhaps we would see turnout at elections increasing.

After all, the so called 'Zombie Parliament' should have enough time on its hands for this sort of thing...

By Toto Berger

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