January 3

When only the best will do.



Elections in other countries do not always involve the smooth transition of power we are accustomed to in Australia. In November, there was no violence; there wasn’t even any favourable public demonstration. No Australians saw the need to behave like mad people, waving Labor flags from their cars, tooting their horns and driving recklessly through the seats of our capitals, as they do even in some supposedly sophisticated European countries.

Sometimes, elections in other democratic countries even involve violence. In the last but one presidential election in France, we saw a series of often violent demonstrations, and calls for the dissolution of the republic –the fifth.  The night after the last in 2007, 730 cars were torched, as in the photograph,  and 592 people arrested. This continued over several nights.

So have we anything to learn about how to elect a new government from the oldest and greatest republic in the world, the United States?

The answer must be no. The  way of choosing the US government must be the slowest, most convoluted, and certainly the most expensive in the world. The president is effectively chosen through a popular election, although an electoral college is nominally interposed.

…the republican movement's secret…

The Australian republican movement is secretly putting its money on popular election too, although they pretend they don’t know what sort of republic they want. Professor Greg Craven, a constitutional expert, republican, and university vice-chancellor let that particular cat out of the bag. He explained to Senator Marise Payne that the process she was supporting as an ARM office bearer- two plebiscites and a referendum – would necessarily result in a referendum on a directly elected president[i]. (See this column, 7 September, 2004) He explained to her that when the people woke up to the fact that this would be a disaster, it would go down to a bigger defeat than in 1999.

….the never ending election..

So how does the US popular election, indirectly through the electoral college, work?

First of all the parties have to choose their candidates. This began officially on 3 January 2008 although the election won’t be until 4 November, 2008,  308 days later. The results are usually known on that day, but in 2000 the declaration took two months. The president originally was not to take office until 4 March, but this has been brought back to 20 January.

Actually the election campaign seems to have been going on for at least all of 2007, and even before that.

(The  candidates for the Democratic nomination for president of the United States are  Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Mike Gravel, John Edwards, Bill Richardson, Joe Biden, Dennis Kucinich and Chris Dodd. The  candidates for the Republican nomination for president of the United States are Rudy Giuliani, Duncan Hunter, John McCain, Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, Ron Paul and Fred Thompson.)

The voters in Iowa began their party caucuses on 3 January. In this, voters choose delegates pledged to particular candidates for the state convention. This body then selects delegates to the national convention. This is tedious, but since it iidicates how the candidates are attracting suport, the media and the politicians are excited by it.

In the following week, voters in  miniscule New Hampshire  vote on their choices among the candidates for each party. As this will be first  election for  any of the presidential candidates, the results will make headlines. Although other states have tried to pre-empt the New Hampshire primaries, they seem to have kept their place. Then there will be conventions during January   in Michigan, Nevada, South Carolina, and Florida after New Hampshire and on 1 February in Maine. In addition to Iowa, Wyoming, on 5 January, precedes New Hampshire.

 Then we have “Super Tuesday” on 5 February, when twenty states, including those giants, California and New York, choose their party delegates. By the end of Super Tuesday, nearly half of the delegates for the various conventions will have been elected, and the most likely candidates for each party will be emerging.

The rules for voting in the primaries, the party elections, are complicated and vary. For example in New Hampshire if you are registered but decline to state which party you belong to,  you can vote in either the Democratic or the American Independent election, but you can’t vote  in the Republican primary. You must have registered as a Republican to do that.  The Independent candidate won't stand a chance of election, but the emergence of a relatively strong Independent will disadvantage one of the main contenders.

Unlike Australia, voting is first past the post, voluntary and governed mainly by state laws.

…compare this with Australia…

Compare that with speed, cost and efficiency of choosing and appointing our Governor –General, whom the High Court long ago determined to be the “Constitutional Head of the Commonwealth”, or a Governors, whom the High Court says is the “Constitutional Head of State.” 

And which system best achieves the objective of the founding Fathers of the United Sates, that of providing leadership beyond partisan politics?  

And how much better is it to separate this office from the actual government? Unlike the US, the Australian government is responsible to Parliament and can be removed at any time without the complicated rigid impeachment process which we know can paralyse the government for months.

What  objective person would not conclude that our system runs rings around that of the  best and oldest republic in the world?




[i] See this column, 7 September, 2004


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