The term “thief president” has sometimes been used for a U.S. President who is elected to office on a majority of electoral college votes but a minority of popular votes.
Australia now has a thief prime minister, ex-student radical leader Julia Gillard, whose left-of-center Labor Party was elected with a very decided minority of popular votes compared to the opposition Liberal (i.e. Conservative) party, led by Tony Abbott, but retains government with the support of two Independents in the House of Representatives. It is an outcome that the framers of the Australian Constitution and voting system never intended, and a slap in the face for democracy and majority government.
Gillard originally came to power by a coup within the Labor Party that got rid of her predecessor, Kevin Rudd, whose popularity had collapsed shortly after his election. Australia is a long way from real political trouble, but the succession of events is beginning to raise eyebrows among those Asian countries that have always looked at it as a model of political regularity and stability. The real responsibility for this, however, lies not only with Gillard’s determination to cling to power but with two independent Members of Parliament, Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott, who put an extension of their personal power ahead of representative government.
Following the election, Australia was basically without an effective government for 17 days while the Independents reveled in their new-found importance. Finally these two stated that they would support Gillard. Windsor actually explained they had sided with her because Labor in government was less likely to call another election. Why was Gillard less likely than Abbott to go back to the polls? “Because I think [Abbott] would be more likely to win.” Commentator Janet Albrechtsen wrote:
Get it? Windsor admitted he sided with the party that had less support from Australian voters. It’s a novel theory of democracy, almost as brazen as Stalin’s theory that it’s not the people who vote that count. It’s the people who count the votes.
Politics does not get more elitist than what happened yesterday. The Independents use fine rhetoric of grassroots politics, respecting their constituents, supporting their electorates, improving our democracy.
Windsor and Oakeshott revealed that Independents play raw politics just as toxic as either of the political parties that Independents like to scorn. Their game has been one of self-interest clothed in the tricky language of stability and longevity.
Backing the party less popular with voters does not improve democracy. It diminishes and devalues democracy.
Actually, the Independents’ behavior can be seen as more toxic than that of any major party: they have decoded, for the sake of their own power, to keep a minority party in power simply because it is a minority. Anything as quaint as beliefs or values appear to have nothing to do with the case.
Windsor and Oakshott have suddenly found they are important and wish to prolong the agreeable sensation. In the previous Parliament Oakeshott voted in only one-third of the divisions and Windsor voted in only-half: not an indication that they actually take Parliamentary democracy very seriously in ordinary circumstances.
Albrechtsen remarked: “Perhaps we should not be surprised by the Independents’ patently undemocratic decision to side with the party least likely to win the next election.”
Windsor and Oakeshott have, incidentally, not only defied the wishes of a majority of the country’s voters but also the wishes of what appears to be a heavy majority of the voters in their own constituencies. Voters in both constituencies strongly supported the formation of a non-Labor government. In Windsor’s seat Labor polled only 8.1% of votes and in Oakeshott’s seat 13.5%. Local reports quote a number of members of Windsor’s and Oakeshott’s traditionally conservative electorates who claim to have been betrayed.
Australia has had some fairly noisy elections in the past, but they have always ended up with a result that more or less reflected what a majority of the public wanted. It is one of the oldest democracies in the world and its political history has been one of the most decent and peaceful.
What it is confronted with now is a spectacle of blackmail on a national scale by two members of Parliament unrepresentative of any party, and a “thief” Prime Minister determined to cling to power irrespective of the wishes of the majority of electors.
The only democratic way to clear the air would be to call another election but at the moment there is no way to force this. Australia is left with a lame-duck government full of potential for further instability. However radical Gillard’s personal agenda may be, the government is likely to be very cautious, at least in the obvious sense, although the Labor Party left in alliance with the far-left Greens, which in some ways has an eerie resemblance to Obama’s Democrats, is likely to try to get social legislation through on euthanasia and related “moral” issues a good deal less innocuous than it seems at first glance. There is also the possibility of a so-called Bill of Rights which while sounding innocuous enough will enforce political correctness by defining “rights” in a very special way.
Australia will probably carry on, on the surface, much the same as before with little change in foreign or domestic policies, but at the very least its international image is tarnished.