When I finished my column of August 21, “Researching the run-off amendment’’, I realised that I had ended it rather weakly, but I didn’t do anything about it as I was fighting to meet the submission deadline. These are the last two paragraphs:
“But why the public outcry against the alteration of section 73 (1) if it only needs a simple majority’’? Part of the answer seems to lie in section 4 (i), which identifies “freedom of thought and expression’’ as one of our “fundamental freedoms’’.
I mean to say, if I have the freedom of expression, why force me to vote a second time if I have already expressed my desire for a particular candidate and party?’
In the paragraphs taken together, I was proposing that the amendment would impinge on my freedom of expression by forcing me to vote again and perhaps change my mind. But all I did was to ask, much too weakly, why force me to vote a second time if I have already expressed a desire.
Weak! I should have said something like: “This is a blatant hijacking of one of my fundamental freedoms — freedom of expression!’’ Opportunity to reflect does this to me.
The amendment has been duly passed in the Senate, supported by three Independent senators, and will most likely be proclaimed into law by the president. But, apart from being a silly law (in that in its final form it cannot guarantee the realisation of the original intention of its advocates to have only “majority MPs’’ in the House of Representatives), it will be a bad law because it will make the thinking voter question, every time she is called upon to vote a second time, whether her freedom of expression isn’t being manipulated and violated.
And for what? Not to resolve any difficulties in the way of governance, but, putatively, to ensure that winning candidates poll 50-plus per cent of the votes cast. Quickly now, what difficulty would the amendment remove?
The widespread public outcry against the amendment is the clearest indicator that a majority of people may not be seeing it as a harbinger or expander of democracy but as a disturber of a fundamental freedom. For many, the amendment has caused nervousness, disquiet, apprehension, doubt, anxiety, stress, anger, frustration—all negative emotions. I have not witnessed pleasure, joy, happiness, exultation, excitement over it—not even from the Government side. People are genuinely concerned that a fundamental freedom of theirs is being breached, and that it could be breached by a simple majority vote.
Let me personalise the matter and do so hypothetically. In 2015, I vote for Candidate X of Party 4. Before doing so, I have carefully considered the candidates of Parties 1, 2 and 3, and I have decided that, for a variety of reasons, I do not want them. Among the reasons are the following: i) Parties 1 and 2 have been giving me race-based politics and governance for too long; ii) Parties 1 and 2 have been ignoring the voters in the governance process and doing their own thing apart from them though ostensibly for them; iii) Parties 1 and 2 promise integrity and morality in public affairs but offer corruption, mismanagement, and arrogance instead; iv) Party 3 joined with Party 1 and compromised its principles and character on the altars of coalition solidarity and collective responsibility. I therefore do not want to vote for them; on the contrary, I despise them. I want to vote for Party 4, no other.
Now, Candidate X of Party 4 may or may not win. I hope she wins, of course, but I am not voting for her because I believe she will. I am voting for her because, on a personal level, I want a change, something different. I wish enough of the other votes shared my thinking and feeling, but if they don’t, I don’t want to vote like them, and I don’t want any law to force me to.
I consider that Candidate X may win his seat, and his party not win the government. But she may articulate on the issues more powerfully, point government in new directions more creatively, and in general provide better representation of his constituency than Candidate Y of Party 1.
If she loses in the first poll and is forced out in the second, it will mean me being forced to i) not go back out to vote, or ii) go back out to vote for a candidate and party I may despise, or iii) go back out to vote for the least despised candidate/party.
To me, that would be unreasonably constraining my freedom of expression and, recognising the gravity of the matter, the framers of section 54(2) bound Parliament to a two-thirds majority for it to happen.