Proposals to have fewer and less frequent general elections should be seen for what they are – arguments in favour of less democracy for the publicly and less accountability for politicians. If we extend the parliamentary term from the current three years to four years, then quite simply the public has less say over how the country is run. [Read more below]
Elections are incredibly important forums for public participation in politics – despite their limitations. After all, election campaigns are when the whole nation has a conversation about where New Zealand is going, and about extremely important political questions about how we live our lives. To reduce these events is simply anti-democratic.
The proposal for a four-term year is obviously self-serving on the part of politicians. And it’s no surprise to find that there appears to be a cross-party consensus in Parliament for having fewer elections. This should not be surprising, as the idea of having fewer elections means the politicians and parties don’t have to submit themselves to the will of the people so often. The proposal is clearly an elitist one.
This will be popular within the ‘beltway’, but the wider public will have absolutely no appetite to give away more voter/electoral sovereignty to politicians. Politicians – and the political establishment or ‘political class’ are out-of-touch if they think voters want to give away their ability to keep politicians on a leash. Frequent elections give the public the opportunity to vote out both governments, political parties and MPs.
There is absolutely no evidence (that I’ve been able to find, at least) that longer parliamentary terms equate with better governance or policy development/implementation. It’s hard to argue that the governments of, say Britain, are of a better quality than New Zealand simply because they have two extra years to govern with.
While it is true that MMP has improved governance in New Zealand, there are still very few checks and balances on the Executive. A three-year Parliament is therefore a vital check on what is still essentially an Elected Dictatorship.
John Key has said that the economy suffers from having elections – but this is outrageously anti-democratic and without evidence. In fact, taken to it’s logical conclusion, the same argument could be made for reducing all sorts of democratic elements of New Zealand politics. Why not just abolish elections entirely?
An argument is commonly made by proponents of a four-year term that it will produce better governance because currently governments spend only about one year actually governing, with the other years being taken up with campaigning or bedding in changes. Bu it’s a complete myth that governments only ‘do stuff’ in one of the three years of the parliamentary term. This is repeated constantly with no real evidence provided.
The argument is also made that the triennial elections mean that politicians spend too much of the parliamentary term in campaign mode. This argument might have had some merit a few decades ago, but in 2013 parliamentary politics now functions as a ‘permanent campaign’. So every year is effectively now an ‘election year’ in terms of how the politicians operate – they are always campaigning. Therefore it just makes no sense to argue that we need more non-election years so that the politicians can ‘do stuff’.
If anything, we should be having a more frequent elections. In fact the old Chartist movement idea of ‘Annual Parliaments’ is one worth considering. That should be the demand of true democrats – more frequent elections rather than having politicians given yet more protection from the public.