[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.