Monday, December 28, 2020

Guy Steward: Elections

Karl Marx said, “take away a nation’s heritage and they are more easily persuaded”.

That’s us now in New Zealand as we move into 2021, although the taking away and the easy persuasion have been happening for some time. However, the heritage referred to has helped ensure that the way our elections are conducted has remained above board, whether or not the outcome has been to our liking.
Fraud, intimidation, and violence have traditionally been rare in Western elections, while unfortunately many other countries who don’t have quite the same heritage have been disproportionately affected. For just a few examples from the recent past: in the 2018 Bangladesh elections - violence, deaths, and a heavy army and police presence; in Kinshasa, Zaire in the same year - riots and mayhem; in the 2019 Indonesian elections - at least seven dead and 200 wounded; in early 2019 - a coup in Gabon to “restore democracy” (although as one mainstream media outlet wryly observed “no African coup ever ends in democracy”). And so on. Plus the fraud.

2020 has finished with election dramas and reports of election scams in the USA still hanging in the air. While claims of “rigging”, easy enough to say but difficult to prove, may be just pre- or post-election sparring, some organisations obviously consider recent claims to be worth working hard to debunk

But anyone who thinks that a US election (or any election) could never be compromised needs to think again. History gives a few examples. As far back as the 1876 Presidential Election, just a hundred years after the Declaration of Independence, ballots were tampered with by both Republicans and Democrats with political gangs in the South at times disrupting voting and intimidating voters. In elections in Ohio in 1910, 26% of one electorate was convicted of selling votes. 

And in the 21st century neither Democrats nor Republicans have been free of controversy. An example is when, in 2002, the New Jersey Supreme Court outrageously overruled its own state election laws in favour of a Democratic Party candidate, as recorded by veteran reporters Bob Ingle and Sandy McClure in their hard-hitting exposé of New Jersey’s culture of corruption, The Soprano State (2008).

But why have large-scale irregularities not been the norm?

In his 1940 article, “The Lion and the Unicorn”, George Orwell, still at that time a well-meaning socialist, noted the dislike of power-mongering, bribery, militarism, and corruption among the English: “You do not arrive at the polling booth to find men with revolvers telling you which way to vote, nor are the votes miscounted, nor is there any direct bribery.” (p.22). This remains true of English speaking countries plus some others. New Zealand has been voted the least corrupt country in the world for 2020, according to the Corruption Perceptions Index. In 2019, we were first equal with Denmark as the least corrupt, with other Northern European countries and Singapore close behind. It’s something to be proud of and to diligently try to preserve.

Since the dust has yet to settle on the recent US elections, I reserve further comment, except regarding the frequent statements I hear along the lines of “democracy has won”, “the people have won”, “the largest democracy in the world”, etc. It’s heard often enough in New Zealand too - about being a “democracy”. Sometimes stated to be the “best worst system of government”, the truth is that pure democracy can end up being a dictatorship by the 51% or any large group which manages to get into power, obviously in some places including fraud or violence if they deem it necessary. What is there to check it here or in the USA? Though we label the democratic process “representative democracy”, New Zealand is defined not as a such but as a constitutional monarchy using democratic means—albeit flawed under MMP depending on your opinion. And the USA is a constitutional republic, constrained by its constitution.

The website helps us get an understanding of any country’s constitutional history. New Zealand’s is uncodified, a mix of written and unwritten sources, harking back to those “rights and privileges” mentioned in the third article (as I have written about before) of the Treaty of Waitangi. From the top to the bottom of New Zealand, every person has traditionally been privileged in this way, whether they knew it or not. As Sir Āpirana Ngata said, “Every hour of the night while you are asleep there are one hundred laws looking after you”. That doesn’t mean that having more laws is better, but they include those rights and privileges which any government can attempt to revoke. Some documents, such as the Bill of Rights, not being “entrenched” in a codified constitutional document like that of the U.S., could theoretically be altered or overridden by a Parliamentary majority – a legitimate reason to be watchful. In the words of Thomas Jefferson, "Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty."

When any socialist government holds the reins, the people, the voters, need to be constantly on the alert for breaches of traditional freedoms in favour of radical socialist and globalist policies. Democracy is never enough on its own, as there must be a final source of authority. For the USA, their constitution remains a valuable written document to which everyone there can defer as a fixed point of reference. For us, it is those “rights and privileges”.

One concerning example of the testing of the boundaries of those rights, privileges and freedoms is the recent persistent attempts by our government to deregister Family First as a charity. The Court of Appeal’s response to the High Court decision referred to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in defence of the right to freedom of expression (although it goes further back than that.) The government is now allowed to take Family First to the Supreme Court to appeal the Court of Appeal decision.

“Take away a nation’s heritage and they are more easily persuaded”!

We have the challenge in 2021 of helping to ensure that the totalitarian impulse will never fully take root in New Zealand and that truth will ultimately prevail. Perhaps then the best thing we could do towards restoring that safeguard is to start rediscovering our heritage.

Guy Steward is a teacher, musician, and writer.


Jigsaw said...

There is a huge ignorance in New Zealand about the democratic process and all the ways in which it has been enhanced and maintained over the years since our very first election in 1853.
If asked I imagine that a lot of people would imagine that first election to be similar in at least a majority of ways to an election held today.
That fact that in a district at a place advertised and certain number of men gathered together -all having been able to prove that they were indeed British citizens and owners or leasees of property to a certain value and when asked raised their hand (if they were sober enough) to vote for the candidate they wanted. In the years since we have made sure that all citizens of whatever sex aged 18 and over can vote-and secretly so no bribing or corruption and no polling booths in hotels etc. A large number of things are in place and yet.......we now seriously want to divide our local electorates into race-based electorates oblivious it seems to all the progress and to all the changes we have made. Have we learned anything at all?

Peter Bacos said...

Aren't we doing this now with the introduction of Maori wards up and down the country? The European heritage of this country is being discredited more and more so much so that people are not aware that the first elections of 1852 were granted to Maori snd European males over the age of 22 on a copyholder franchise. We have a venerable tradition which is now going to be replaced by racial preferencing which will drive a coach and horses through this tradition.

Peter Bacos said...

The 1876 election was disputed. The Democrats decided to give it to Rutherford B Hayes in exchange for withdrawing all federal troups from the South and in effect canning Reconstruction. The troops from the North would no longer try to enforce Amendments 13, 14 and 15 of the Constitution. Segregation and Jim Crow laws were allowed free reign. It was a seminal moment in American history; her failure to integrate blacks fully into American life dates from this moment.