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September 18, 2017 | by  | in Opinion | [ssba]

Is it really the best?

Many cite the French Revolution (1789–1799) as the birthplace of modern democracy; it shifted the rights of sovereignty from those in the upper echelons of society to “the common people”. It was the first time a Western country had chosen democracy over monarchy and provided footprints in the sand for others to follow, culminating in the revolutions of 1848, where multiple countries in separate incidents revolted against their respective monarchs in favour of democracy.

New Zealand adopted the frameworks of Western democracy with the immigration of settlers — the Constitution Act (1852) officially introduced a colonial system of government following the Treaty of Waitangi (1840). Since then surface changes have been made while the overall structure remains the same; votes are cast for candidates who represent a political ideal or party. Admittedly the system has been expanded and complicated — for example the move from a First Past the Post to a Mixed Member Proportional voting system — but although these improvements encourage and expand the voice of the public in the voting process, it is still painfully obvious that they don’t go far enough. How can we expect a singular person to personify and articulate the problems of all the people of an area, from students to retirees, from those who have cents in their bank to others who have millions? I refuse to accept that this is the best way our society can be run.

We live in a two party system and, although there is an illusion of multiple choice, no party other than National or Labour has ever had a realistic chance of winning a majority. We live in a classical left against right, liberal versus conservative society. This is so ingrained in our political culture that we assume who the minor parties will align with, for example one could argue that a vote for Green is a vote for a Labour government. The problem with a two party system is that if there is agreement between the two major parties, there is very little we as the public can do to have anything different. While politicians love to argue (and sometimes it feels like they are opposing each other just to oppose), agreement between parties does occur, leaving little room for alternative perspectives.

When it all gets too much and a policy, or even a politician, needs replacing, there is no real power the public can invoke (other than protest, which is just a glorified attempt to change someone’s mind). And while you wait another three years, nothing will change.

Politicians face the slightest pressure to meet societal needs, with little to no repercussions for failure, unless catastrophic. However, they also have a party allegiance; if a politician goes “rogue” their party has the right to remove them from parliament (if they are a list MP), to remove them from the party, or to mute their voice by “back benching” them. Any minor dissent or misalignment by a politician from their party can be politically devastating and career ending. Backlash from your party is often far more severe and consequential than that from the public.

Over 200 years ago the French introduced the concept of democracy to the masses. However, to this day, those in government are the ones who hold the power to enact change, while the public has essentially been given the illusion of choice. So what now? There is so little discourse on the competency of the political system that often, when confronted with some of the problems of modern democracy, people come up blank when asked for solutions. Before we can talk about how to fix it, people need to understand why they have to fix it. Is it really the best now? I believe that once you think about it, the answer will always be no.


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