Electoral systems, democracy and participation

[Edited when I realised that WP for iPhone failed me and lost most of the post – urgh!]

Last week the New Zealand Government announced not one but the possibility of two referenda on New Zealand’s electoral system, that is the way that citizens vote in politicians to represent them in Parliament. Despite the two or so years before the next election, and by default, as the Government plan, the referendum, people are getting excited. As one friend put it the “Vote Yes” of the s.59 debate has rapidly moved on to the “Vote MMP” – mobilising support across New Zealand (although I’m fairly sure the support base has varied a bit for these two campaigns.)

This is where I felt inspired last night on a bus and wrote  what I’d like to claim was a brilliant remainder of the post on encouraging people to engage and be educated about civics.  I talked about MMP, the things I liked about it, the things I wasn’t so happy with, and why a return to the two horse race of FPP didn’t seem like a good idea to me. I talked about the important role small parties play in ensuring greater consensus is reached around new, and amended, legislation. I wrote on the lack of compulsary education at school on any of this, and how this led to a deficit in understanding of how citizens can engage with politics, politicians and Government – from spending 10-15mins in a polling booth every three years to presenting the odd submission to a Select Committee.

An accountable government needs to have citizens that know how to participate and engage and I’m not sure that’s the case in NZ at the moment. I know it’s not the case in many other countries – as our discussion on the ActionAid news blog has highlighted. ‘Civics’ should be taught and participation should be encouraged from an early age if we want to have accountable MPs and engaged democracies.

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Fi McKenzie says:

    Hmmm, I wrote a lot more than this – where has is all disappeared to?

  2. Fi McKenzie says:

    Urgh . . . WP for iPhone has lost half my post – and all of the good bit. How rude!

  3. Jimmy says:

    That’s exactly how I see it. Governments will definitely not take up the initiative of civic educating the people because it’s in the politician’s interest that some people stay ignorant. Ignorant masses are easier to manage. They wont question decisions.

    Unfortunately, school curricula are supervised or approved by governments, politicians in other words. The only hope are effective NGOs

    When Malawi attained democratic system of government, human rights workers launched an NGO called National Institute for Civic Education to educate people on their democratic rights and the whole democratic process.

    Not about its success or failure – hard to measure. I was young myself and not much interested in these issues. I will do some research on it.

    1. Fi McKenzie says:

      Would love to see any research you’ve found or done on the successes of the National Institute for Civic Education, and any similar orgs. Our Electoral Commission provides most of the education in NZ and while it’s ad campaign was fairly memorable, I don’t think it did a good job at all of explaining anything beyond the need to place two ticks on a ballot form. Finding ways of quantifying the successes or failures though is the problem – although must be necessary for funding/grants.

      The trick is going to be getting effective NGOs working with those MPs that want to encourage engagement (they are out there, I’ve met and worked with plenty of them) but don’t know how to do it but also understanding how to be effective on these points on their own. Defining efficacy might be the difficult bit.

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