Compulsory voting for Sydney businesses makes a mockery of democracy

2014-08-12 22:55:42 | Al Muslim News
Compulsory voting for Sydney businesses makes a mockery of democracy

 

The decision by the NSW state government to automatically enrol Sydney businesses and compel vote in city council elections might seem like a petty, parochial matter. At a basic level, it could look like a political game arranged to get rid of the current mayor. The full details of the arrangements are yet to emerge, but on the basis of yesterday’s news it seems that non-resident businesses owners will have to vote; residents with businesses will have to vote more than once; and presumably those with several rate paying businesses will get a vote for each one. Clover Moore’s decade-long administration will very probably come to an end as a result. While the political right once needed to invoke totalitarianism and spies to fiddle the political system, now, apparently, the world-historical danger that requires an effective gerrymander in favour of business is bike lanes and public art. No one really believes the justifications that have been trotted out by premier Mike Baird, and nor are they expected to. The players know that their explanations misdescribe the underlying political and social realities, they know we know, they mouth the words anyway, and we too-readily accept that this is just what politics is. Sydney residents insisted on repeatedly electing the wrong mayor, their story goes, so the system needed to be changed to produce a result that more accurately reflected the preferences of the powerful. Residents had proved themselves incompetent, so “adult” intervention was needed. A premier who saw his predecessor and two backbench supporters resign over corruption doesn’t expect to have his bromides about ending the disenfranchisement of financial entities taken at face value. In turn, the electorate fully expects him to act in his own interests first, with those of the Daily Telegraph a close second, and his friends third. Slavoj Zizek’s paraphrase of the philosopher Peter Sloterdijk is apt: “they know very well what they are doing, but still, they are doing it”. NSW politics: business as usual, we might think. But the reason we might consider doing more than heaving a sigh is that the effect of the changes means it is continuous with a global tendency which is fast eroding the pretence of electoral equality in democracies. In the US, after according to the wealthy unlimited, unregulable and unaccountable power to influence elections, the Supreme Court decided that wealth itself has constitutional rights that override the rights of any corporation’s human employees to health care. The court effectively gave corporations some of the rights of citizenship. Around the same time, democracy was suspended in Detroit and an emergency administrator appointed. Events such as these expanded private power – the power of wealth – at the expense of citizens and workers. The fact that all the debate so far on the Sydney decision has been about what the precise mix between business and residents in voting should be alarming. It suggests that the belief that just being in business means you should have special political rights has been absorbed into common sense. It’s a notion that we should challenge. Citizens should ask, why should any business have a single vote in any election? Amid the current blather about a “Libertarian moment”, exponents of that ideology are often allowed to claim that they are beyond the old dichotomies of wealth and power. But politics is actually bisected by a fairly bright line, and they stand on the same side as conservatives. The rest of us are on the other. Their side tries to limit and wind back any democratic or egalitarian gains by extending and bolstering private power (and thus the power of wealth). Our side asserts the public character of institutions, conditions and relationships where private power corrodes human welfare. This is not the same as demanding state intervention. The Labor movement, feminism, and the civil rights movement insisted that employment contracts, family life and the service policies of private businesses were all collective concerns. All were centred on demands for equality. Liberalism and conservatism came into being in order to limit and hedge democratic demands, and this remains central mainstream doctrine on the right. In a sense, we shouldn’t be surprised that a contemporary Australian liberal like Adam Creighton can write in The Australian that democracy is “unsustainable”, and that Senate seats should be given to the richest people in the country. And we shouldn’t be surprised when Baird puts ideas like this into practice. Whatever you might think of Moore, resident voters appear to like her. Our concern, though, should not be with the end of her mayoralty as such, but that the right can so brazenly act in anti-democratic ways, apparently without fearing any consequences..

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