Win, lose or draw

Thank you Nicholas for a generous introduction, not to mention the gift of an opportunity to pontificate. And hello Troppodillarians. Formally.  Nicholas’s “formidably well read” comment in his intro was a bit OTT, replies to blog posts being an opportunity to make a great deal of not much at all, and being able to get away with it if no-one looks too closely. In keeping with that idea, to write the following post, I have read hardly anything.
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I am something of a stranger to the arcane workings of football. In fact all team sports are a mystery. However, enough of the past fortnight leaked through my fog of indifference for me to be bemused by the fact that fans looked depressed and disconsolate after the AFL football finals draw. What could be wrong when both sides had won? Clearly the players had tried their hardest and all of them had proven up to the job. Why were fans of both sides not ecstatic?

Once upon a time, we thought highly of trying our best. Reporting of sports events, especially the Olympics, used to be on the basis of good performance. I remember as a child listening to the results of obscure events without Australian contestants, broadcast purely because the winner or winners, or sometimes just all the participants were “good sports”.

I don’t think extra time ought to be an option in sport, when both sides win. It spoils the harmony of equality. Neither am I a great fan of jingoistic tribalism. Let’s face it; the outcome in sport is hardly a life and death exercise.

However extra time is possibly a very good idea for elections, especially where hung parliaments are the outcome. At least after the second or third go at getting a result.

The Machiavellian machinations and cries of foul caused by Australia’s hung Parliament have got nothing on Parliament in Nauru. Nauru has just had two elections resulting in two draws, and is shaping up for a third. It had an election in April of this year which resulted in a hung parliament. In an 18 seat house, the vote came out at nine for each side. They voted again in June and got effectively the same result.

The details give Australian Parliament an object lesson in where not to go.

Here’s the whole messy story extracted as briefly as I can from Inter-Parliamentary Union reports.

In April 2008 an election was called as a result of a vote of no confidence in the sitting government. Nine pro government members retained their seats but three members who were elected as opposition members changed their minds and sided with the government. This worked for a while, but in January and February 2010 the three members changed back to the anti government side to express their dissatisfaction with the President. The numbers were equalised by the former Speaker, an opposition member who had been suspended the previous July for making derogatory remarks, who was allowed to return to Parliament in February, after formally apologising. This made it 9 all.
In April 2010, an election was held to resolve the standoff, but exactly the same 18 members were returned, and so was the stalemate.

Under Nauru’s constitution no business can be transacted until a Speaker is elected. The first business subsequent to this is the election of deputy speaker, committee chairs and President before any other business can be done.

So what happened? Not one but two speakers resigned in short succession, and Parliament failed to elect another speaker. The business of Parliament was completely stymied. The President declared a state of emergency and dissolved Parliament, calling a fresh election for June 2010.

All 18 members of Parliament ran in the June election. The nine pro government members were returned and eight of the anti government members retained their seats. The solitary losing opposition member was replaced by a man who had never served in Parliament. Milton Dube, effectively an “independent” who promised his vote to whichever side committed itself to the interests of his constituency.

Here’s how the relevant IPU report finishes.

“Acting President Stephen urged Mr. Dube to join the government so as to resolve the political deadlock but the latter did not declare his allegiance before the first session.

On 22 June, the newly elected Parliament held its first session. Mr. Aloysius Amwano, an opposition member, subsequently accepted to become new Speaker but demanded the resignation of Acting President Stephen. Mr. Stephen said he would stand down, as long as the new leader came from within his group of supporters. On 2 July, Mr. Amwano was elected new Speaker.

On 6 July, Mr. Mathew Batsiua, a pro-government member, put the motion to elect a President to Parliament. He announced that the government had a required majority to govern after an opposition member, Mr. Rykers Solomon, had joined the government side. However, Speaker Amwano refused to let the motion proceed, returning the country to a political stalemate.”

So how to avoid such a debacle in Australia?

A)    Get with the “new paradigm”. Stop gagging and try really hard. A draw is a draw after all and you both won. It’s no time for tribalism.

B)    Failing that, rewrite the electoral laws to provide for extra time. Voters would love it.

C)    On the vanishingly small possibility that they don’t, institute the Tariq Ali solution.  (See last week’s Q & A ) Run a pilot on euthanasia laws by testing them first on Parliamentarians.

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7 Responses to Win, lose or draw

  1. Annette Hurley says:

    Interesting that no matter how formidably well read or educated the commentator, there is always a cheap punch line to be had in vilifying politicians.

  2. Mike Pepperday says:

    I don’t actually understand what you mean by “extra time.”

  3. Julia says:

    Stop taking me seriously! Extra time is one solution to a draw in football but nothing is a solution to Nauruan politics it seems. And what an object lesson in how not to run a hung Parliament. Makes ours look like a model of decorum. Read the original IPU reports if you have time. The really fine detail is even worse.

  4. Mike Pepperday says:

    “And what an object lesson in how not to run a hung Parliament. Makes ours look like a model of decorum.”

    So – you don’t want that to be taken seriously? I happen to think it is off the mark but if it’s not a serious comment there’s no point in going on about it.

    I am unsure whether your recommendation to read the IPU report is serious but if it is, I cannot imagine I would learn anything. Surely it is merely a litany of political argy-bargy, and not atypical of Pacific island states.

  5. Julia says:

    Wouldn’t it be useful if blog comment text had prosody. Had you heard rather than read my reply, it would have been easier to tell which part was the object of my comment about seriousness.

    I just think Nauru makes an interesting counterfactual. What if Australia had held a second election to resolve the deadlock? Here is a case where that did not work. What if the matter of appointing a Speaker had not been resolved. Here is a case where that also went badly wrong. No need to conjure speculative fiction to explore “what if” for Australian Parliament when here we have such an instructive real case to do the job.

    In addition the story also has delicious bits like a former Speaker being suspended for derogatory remarks.

    As for the IPU reports being “a litany of political argy bargy”, well yes, but do you ever watch silent movies? Same entertainment value. There is a balletic deftness almost worthy of Buster Keaton in the way they avoid their own political demise.

  6. Richard Green says:

    If repeated elections fail to produce a government, you can always burn down the parliament. Not in the metaphorical sense, but in the historical and literal sense.

  7. Julia says:

    Nice choice of unvideo to illustrate the point. Did note the burning down of parliament was “pay per view”. Might make it lose some of its impact.

    So what determines good parliamentary behaviour of the sort that means we don’t want to burn it down?

    The Nauru example would seem to suggest a pretty strong role for the development of a Parliamentary culture that does not push things to the brink; one where people observe unwritten conventions as well as formal standing orders and rules. You, Richard could argue “institutionalisation”, which as a non political scientist, I interpret as something like ’a suite of organisational practices that hold behaviour in place’.

    How are such cultures fostered? Is it dependent on personality? On training? On party values? On the extent to which collegiality is enacted ahead of adversariality? Is there a way that the polity can assist in creating a culture of parliamentary behaviour which means that public interest trumps self interest? Are we doomed to always hold parliamentarians in disrepute because we see them as inevitably acting out of self interest or at minimum, in danger of being tainted?

    All of that suggests that the theory is the more institutionalised a Parliament is, both in formal “rule” terms and in informal “culture” terms the greater the decorum and stability of the political system. (This I am guessing is because the disinterested solidity of “structure” overrules the impetuosity and self interest of “agency”)

    However I was very fortunate to have had the opportunity to visit Chile last year, as a result of which I was left with the impression that they are still acutely conscious of the Pinochet years and very determined not to repeat them. They have created lots of checks and balanced to ensure shifting power to a small elite is now very difficult. The stability is such that many politicians have held their seats for quite a while, (the Secretary General at that time had been in office for 49 years) a legacy of the Pinochet years and the difficulty of changing the constitution.

    The belief amongst the people I spoke to is that this creates a sort of tectonic plate effect. Because they have built in so much drag against change, when the stresses build up sufficiently, there will eventually be an explosive breaking of the strictures. There was a mood amongst them of resigned somewhat fatalistic inevitability about this eventuality.

    Somewhere between the ossification of an over developed institutionalisation, and the wobbly high stakes, high wire approach of Nauru, there must be a “goldilocks zone”. The shift to a more personality based, aggressively combative, short term win oriented Australian Parliamentary practice suggests we may not stay in it.

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