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Steve Baron: It’s All About Democracy Stupid!

It’s All About Democracy Stupid!

by Steve Baron
Independent candidate for Pakuranga

In just a matter of days, New Zealanders go to the polls to exercise their democratic right to vote and decide the political future our wonderful and prosperous country. But does our vote really count for anything, does it really have any effect the day after the election? Politicians are supposed to represent the wishes of the people who elect them but it seems clear that all too frequently, this simply does not happen and voters would be right to wonder if this really is a democracy or just one day of democracy and three years of an elected dictatorship.

We see it day in and day out, bribes, promises and politicians pandering to every minority out there just so they can have absolute power the day after the election. Our representatives are supposed to represent voters so why is there so much dissention amongst voters and why has so much controversial legislation been allowed to pass that doesn’t seem to have the support of the majority of voters? The main problem would appear to be conscience votes in Parliament such as prostitution, abortion, euthanasia, lowering the drinking age, civil unions etc so perhaps conscience votes in Parliament could and should be abolished? But that wouldn’t cover issues like the removal of appeals to the Privy Council, GE, immigration, nutritional supplement law changes or even sending troops to Vietnam all those years ago.

I believe our time honoured system of Representative Democracy needs to be addressed. We desperately need a complimentary system so we don’t have to accept the best bribe that comes along like a flock of seagulls squabbling over a fried potato chip thrown amongst them. A system where voters can from time to time have a say on issues that concern them when they feel Parliament is not responsive to their wishes and for issues that cannot wait until an election three years away.

The weakness of our current political system is that once a government is elected there are few checks and balances. Voters must accept whatever the government of the day wants. This it often does without a popular mandate or majority support of voters and much of which is introduced by a List MP who is not responsible to an electorate and who cannot simply be thrown out at the next election as some would have us think. So what is the answer?

As an analogy, remember when monopolies and duopolies dominated the market in most things during the 80’s and 90’s? You could only use NZ Post’s phone lines if you also agreed to only use a basic model handset supplied by them and even then you could only rent it and not own it etc. Nowadays consumers have options and may buy one product at a time from several different telecommunications suppliers. Many politicians are perhaps old fashioned monopolists, in that they are still trying to force consumers to accept policies they don't want by bundling them with policies they do want. However, when we elect a government that doesn’t mean we agree with everything they want to do.

130 years ago the Swiss introduced the concept of Binding Referendums which gave the people of Switzerland the chance to vote on the merits of a few important issues that they felt the government had not addressed adequately, so that for once there was an equal partnership of power. It would appear the ultimate win – win situation for both government and the voters. And like it is in Switzerland now, the New Zealand voters would be content to let the politicians do most of the routine work of politics, and would be willing to listen to their advice on complicated issues and for their part the politicians would learn that ordinary people can make wise decisions. There are those who would argue against BCIR, but as David Lange recently said, “These arguments have been largely discredited by the experience overseas.”

It would seem logical, in a modern well informed society that voters would want, and have a democratic right to, more say on issues that directly affect them through the system of direct democracy and Binding Referendums. People are no longer prepared to accept that those in positions of authority always know what is best for them. It is time for change but firstly, New Zealanders must demand it of their politicians.


Steve Baron is co-editor of the book ‘People Power: How to make the government listen to you for a change’. He is also the Founder of BCIR.org.nz, a businessman and Independent candidate for Pakuranga.

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