The Guardian November 22, 2000


Editorial:
Free and fair?

Clinton was quick with his propaganda message when the US Presidential 
elections resulted in gridlock. It proves, he said, that every vote counts. 
It is claimed that the right to vote is the most important democratic 
right.

The right to a universal franchise is not unimportant and must be 
preserved, but the electoral system has and is being systematically 
manipulated to regularly produce an outcome different to that indicated by 
the majority of voters. "The will of the people" is a cliche being 
regularly invoked by both Bush and Gore and used by politicians in other 
countries as well. But the present system does not work out like that.

Any election is far from "fair" when only millionaires can buy the 
necessary radio and TV time and media space to put their policies before 
the people. The total of money spent by the Democrat and Republican 
campaigns runs into hundreds of millions of dollars and most of it is 
provided by corporate donors who expect to get more than their money back 
in the policies to be implemented by whoever is the winner. This money is 
not only spent on media time and space but is also used to stage-manage 
meetings with paid cheer-leaders. Support is bought and the favours of 
other politicians all have a price.

In Florida, where attention has been concentrated as a result of the 
Presidential ballot, "more than 400,000 ex-offenders were excluded from the 
vote." (See last week's Guardian).

It is the "law" that even after offenders have served their sentence, they 
are still not entitled to vote. As the majority of those disfranchised in 
this way are African-Americans and Hispanic migrants who would tend to vote 
for the candidates of the Democrat Party, it is clearly one of those 
manipulations intended to affect the ballot outcome.

Australia is not free of similar manipulation of the electoral system. 
Recent amendments to the NSW electoral law by the Labor Government will 
result in the exclusion of many smaller parties who might otherwise stand 
candidates. There is also a very onerous financial hurdle to jump to stand 
candidates. The NSW electoral changes are designed to ensure that the 
existing two-party system remains intact with the spoils of office being 
shared by the Labor and Liberal Parties long into the future.

In the Federal sphere, the votes cast for the respective parties bear 
little relationship to the number of seats they "win".

In the 1996 Federal election the Liberal-National Party Coalition took 
47.36 percent of the total vote but ended up with 63.5 per cent of the 
seats.

The National Party gained 8.26 percent of the vote and secured 12.8 per 
cent of the seats, whereas the Australian Democrats gained 6.72 percent of 
the votes but not a single seat in the House of Representatives.

This result is obtained by manipulating the individual electorate 
boundaries so that the candidates of the Coalition have an advantage. The 
Labor Party does the same thing when in office. In Australian elections, 
media advantages are also extended to the major parties. 

The right to vote is only one element in the electoral system. So long as 
the media is controlled by those who support either Liberal or Labor (or 
Democrat or Republican), so long as they are able to use government offices 
to manipulate electoral campaigns and bribe voters with last minute 
handouts, so long as electorate boundaries are manipulated, to mention only 
a few areas, there will be no such thing as "free and fair" elections.

The introduction of proportional representation is one important measure 
that would help to achieve a fairer outcome. The media should be available 
to all and the government funding of the major parties' election campaigns 
brought to an end. Another aspect is the actual involvement of the people 
in the selection of candidates and in the elaboration of policies.

Until these changes are implemented, elections will continue to be 
manipulated and the outcome will favour the parties of the ruling class. 
The "will of the people" will be denied.
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