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Monday, January 21, 2008

Matt McCarten Praises US Primary System-Loudon Agrees With Him

Not often I agree with Matt McCarten but he's dead right on this one.

Some excerpts from Indymedia

To most of us, election campaigns are very dull. Even under MMP, it's still essentially a choice between a Labour and a National government, with a few hangers-on from other parties...

Consequently our politics have become more presidential in style and political reporting is more about the personalities and character of our leaders rather than about policy. Both major parties are pro-business and support the status quo. Both main leaders are moderate, competent and don't frighten the horses.

But this dullness of politics has resulted in less than one voter in 400 bothering to join any of our political parties. Our main parties once claimed membership of over 100,000 each. The truth is that internal party life no longer exists in any meaningful way.

I've always had a jaundiced view of the US electoral system. It always seems that the blandest politicians backed with the most money win. But the presidential primary selections for the Republican and Democratic parties currently underway have changed my view...

The excitement is about what's happening with the Democrats. There is no doubt one of their three front runners will be president at the end of this year. Up to now, there was widespread expectation that Hillary Clinton would get her party's nomination for president. It's not a big deal for us or for many other countries to have a woman lead the nation, but it is a huge breakthrough for the US.

But what has rocked the establishment is African American Barack Obama, who worked as a community organiser in Chicago just three years ago, and could quite possibly win his party's nomination...

But just as extraordinary as a woman or a black man being the likely new president, there is the third main contender, John Edwards, who publicly declares that he will be the first trade union president...

Initially, it confounded me how this could happen. But, unlike New Zealand, where our leaders are appointed by a small cabal of MPs in secret behind closed doors, their leaders are elected in public and this empowers voters to have a direct say in choosing their party's candidate for elected office.

It's an extraordinary feat in participatory democracy. When Americans register to vote, they have the option of nominating a party preference. These people are then invited to vote in that party's selection of their candidates. Here in New Zealand we do the opposite. Party candidate selections are carried out by small numbers of party members. In fact half of our MPs who get elected into Parliament via their party list, don't even have to face a selection meeting. They get into Parliament on the say-so of a party committee of less than 20 people. You can see why we get so many MPs who are drongos and party hacks.

In the party selections for the next US president last week, New Hampshire - a state with a similar population to Auckland - more than 500,000 party supporters turned up to vote on their preference for their party's nomination. Pro rata, that makes their voting turnout for party selections bigger than our turnout in last year's local body elections.

Imagine if all our political parties had to elect their party leaders a year out for general election through a series of primary selections in all electorates. Then imagine anyone could be nominated and that these elections were open to all voters who identified themselves as a party supporter or voter.

Imagine the turnout at these meetings if Winston Peters had challenged Jim Bolger when they were last in government together. When Rogernomics was at its peak, you could have had Jim Anderton taking on David Lange or even had Roger Douglas coming in too. Even in this parliamentary term it would have been better to have had Don Brash, Bill English and John Key going to a mass public vote to lead the National Party, than the dirty wee coup the latter two had to carry out.

Open selections would be messy, but more honest and transparent.


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