It happened in the Australian election last year, but even more so in the preceding Australian election a few years ago, and now it’s happening in the recent US election. Leaders who are elected then claim that they have received a ‘mandate’ to run their full policy agenda. In John Howard’s case, that meant continuing to put asylum seekers in concentration camps, continue deregulation and privatisation initiatives, eroding the rights of workers and generally running a corporatist, hard ‘economic rationalist’ policy line domestically along with a slavish attitude toward the alliance to the US and a certain level of xenophobia toward the region and the rest of the world. (OK, you might have guessed which way I voted… ;p)

But people didn’t vote on each of those issues, and where never given the opportunity. On balance, across the issues, enough voters preferred Howard to his opponents (Kim Beazley in the earlier election and Mark Latham in the most recent one) to give him sufficient seats to form government. But I’m quite sure that for many, what they were really thinking was something like “I agree with Howard on border security and education, but not on unfair dismissal laws”. But Howard went ahead and claimed that the election result gave him a mandate on every segment of his policy platform, as well as pretty much anything else that popped into his head.

It shouldn’t be that hard to fix that: at the time of the election, why not identify say 10 policy issues (education, health, trade, international policy, economic policy, taxation, etc)? The parties would know what issues would be on the ballot paper before the election, so it would be up to them to campaign strongly on the issues (rather than on fear and personalities) and make their positions clear. Voters would then place a vote for a candidate, but also choose between the positions of the parties (not just the Big Two, but maybe 4-5 – throw the Greens and the Australian Democrats in there too) on the various policy issues.

Even if those votes couldn’t be made binding on the winning party (and it’s hard to see politicians voting for them to be – and that’s what it would take with the system set up the way it is), at least they could be made public, so that the leader had a very clear sense of which policies had received mandates and which had not. Whaddaya reckon?

This ties in with some of the questions Lorne has been asking on Sirdar Inc about decision making processes and government, although his concern has been more with the judiciary than with elected politicians, I think.

2 replies on “Mandates”

I happen to agree with you and your idea could work…if politicians would allow that. My guess is they wouldn’t. If you recall, Jean Chretien said much the same thing as John Howard when he was elected in the previous election…The Canadian People have said they endorse his mandate…or something like that. There is the old saying that if elections could change policy, they would be made illegal. There was a time when the politicians were there to represent their constituents but now they are just there for the party votes. I always get a kick out of the election promises and the stands that each politician claims during the campaign. They really can say whatever they want to get the votes but once in parliament, they have to vote the way the party votes, not what their constituents want him to vote. He/she is supposed to represent the people in the constituency but in reality he can’t. Maybe he wants to but he can’t. Paul Martin promised free votes in the House of Commons but as we found out those free votes are only on the issues the Prime Minister will allow free votes. Now that he has a minority government you’ll notice that no big issue has been brought up…yet. If they do I’m sure all the parties will vote on party lines…again. And we live in a democratic society?

As for the comment about the judiciary and elected politicians…for my few blogs on same sex marriage I only bring up the judiciary as they are the ones who the government has gone to for a decision and then has said…”see…the courts say we have to now!!”…but in reality it is the government trying to bluff their way through this tough decision. That is why I would like to see referendums on key issues. Then we would see if the leaders of our countries really have a mandate to do what ever they want.

As always, you’ve made my point all too well for me. Are you SURE you aren’t American?

Well, I suppose that’s immaterial consider the fact that is is a worldwide problem. My main concern with heads of state and their “mandates” is the lack of accountability and public input. This seem counter-productive to a healthy democracy. A democracy implies that informed political democratic diccussion is occuring at all levels of society, without fear of censorship; at least that’s the way I imagine it…

Realistically, however, we do not live in a democracy. Most of the world’s nations are more a represntative republic. The most obvious problem with this is the lack of public participation outside of elections. If one can’t even be sure our elections are accurate, as citizens of a “democracy”, how can one be sure of the sanctity of such a “democracy”.

This troubles me deeply. I only hope I don’t get drafted when Bu$h invades Iran.

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