New Zealand’s general election was on Sept. 24. Far away in the Himalayas I’d uploaded my ballot then watched, desperately engaged, as my country’s values emerged in rolling percentages. Elections are nations asking themselves "Whaddywe Wannabe?", as the Spice Girls said so well long ago. Each ballot paper asks “tell me what you want, what you really really want”. Via ticks in boxes we say what questions we really really want our leaders to ask, what kind of answers we want them to give. Should they reduce tax or question whether wealth creating dairy farming is polluting our rivers, do we want politicians who raise concerns about inner city kids' health or, perhaps, ask how we might reduce our carbon footprint? Should they just ask how we can all have more money by the time the next election comes around. The NZ election is in this blog because elections reveal what really makes humans tick and ticking humans is what development works with.
Let’s dissect the election and muse on what September 24 in NZ revealed about humanity. Its a story I've seen play out in village meetings in Cambodia, women’s focus groups in India, in community development fora, when district plans are formed in Nepal... again and again in my development work. Individual human actions that together define a trajectory often. have a common theme..
New Zealand’s MMP is proportional representation. You get a vote for an individual to represent your electorate and more importantly a vote for a party to represent you nationally. A party’s percentage of MPs is determined by its party vote. Thus a small but significant party, say with 15% support (which would have got no representation in the old system) gets 15% of the MPs. As it should. (Parties with under 5% do not get parliamentary representation). Because every vote contributes to parliament’s make up New Zealanders have become much more politically engaged, and by almost guaranteeing no single party wins an outright majority MMP forces coalitions and consensus politics. Pressure groups also try to mobilise interest for their single issue. On Saturday the Legalise Cannabis Party, the Outdoors Party and the Ban 1080 party were on the ballot, their manifestos almost summed up in their names. People feel their questions can be raised in an election. To me these are all positive aspects of MMP.
When the election was declared the neoliberal, conservative National Party looked set for an easy return to power. Led by a well off white man in a suit its campaign rippled with phrases like “monetary”, “fiscal policy”, “Strong and stable” “responsibility” “economic growth” and, of course, “tax cuts”. Their easy road to victory was blocked by the meteoric rise of charismatic Jacinda Ardern at the helm of the more socially oriented Labour party. Ardern, smiling like the sun, spoke of “tackling child poverty”, “health for all” and “free, quality education”. Her campaign byline “relentlessly positive” captured a nation by the heart. New Zealand said “Yes!”. “Jacindamania”, the galvanizing effect of this intelligent young woman with her unstoppable smile, swept the nation. A week before the election Labour was polling higher than National and Ardern was preferred Prime Minister. A desperate National Party demonstrated a non-existent hole in her fiscal policy and cleverly morphed her slogan- "Lets Do This"- into "Lets Tax This". She refuted their claims, still smiling like the sun.
September 24. Steeped in Jacindamania New Zealanders awoke, asking ourselves “What do we want, really really want?”
September 24. The soft rubber of rhetoric met reality's hard road. National surged to a near outright majority of 46%, Labour sagged to 35.8 %, the Green party with 5.9 % just broke the threshold (phew, my vote was not wasted). NZ First (there's a manifesto in three words), a party formed around a single well known politician with few policies, all narrowly parochial, got 7.4 %. All other parties- cannabis, the outdoors, Maori or liberal ideas- got under the 5% threshold and will not be represented.
It’s a common story. This year Jeremy Corbyn, a soft spoken leftist with charisma and wide thinking came close but Britain chose the stodgy self-centrist Brexiteer Teresa May. Last year in USA Berine Sanders excited a nation and brought equality to the national political debate but his party chose a white woman from USA’s elite, economically neoliberal and staunch proponent of militarily liberating Iraq’s oil. Hilary Clinton's campaign pursued relentless national self interest. Her rival flaunted his flaws, and relentlessly offered money power and jobs for those who were in, and promised to keep those who were out, out. Donald Trump was upfront, boastful almost, about being a rich, racist, woman groper and wall-builder. Undeterred USA embraced him and when asked, what it wants, really really wants the worlds most powerful Nation replied "Money and power as represented by Trump". Donald reveled in the attention and gloried in the result.
What did Sept 24 in NZ reveal about human beings everywhere? Despite everything, when the rubber met the road, in New Zealanders (like everyone) voted on a single issue: ourselves. To be sure of winning the National Party could have condensed its entire manifesto into a name by calling itself “The Legalise Short-Term Rational Self Interest Party”.Even Ardern’s Labour’s campaign was “relentlessly self-centred”. She did it for us she said- us being not all people but all New Zealand people. Child poverty meant “NZ children poor by NZ standards, even if wealthy by global standards.” Education for all meant all New Zealanders. She proposed strict limits on immigration. I heard nothing in the election debate about global social and environmental issues (but lots about New Zealand environmental issues). NZ's huge and unsustainable carbon footprint is based on our economy, on international trade, on private transport and vast food-miles, It impoverishes others but I heard no policies suggesting we curb the economy and our carbon use. New Zealand child poverty was in but far more desperate children in poverty elsewhere in our world are out. And obscene wealth (by world standards) and globally unsustainable consumption that most of us indulge in were definitely not election topics. Of course it was political suicide for any party to mention them. Elections are expressions of relentless self interest.
So it came down to a choice between very narrow personal self-interest or nationwide self-interest. New Zealanders (like most) chose the narrow road.The whip-hand in the coalition horse trading happening now is with Winston Peters’ and his New Zealand First. Actually all the parties (Greens possibly excepted) are New Zealand First (and no-one second) parties.
"Ah" you say, "but of course, this was a New Zealand election. For global issues in election debate you'd need a (non-existent) global election".
Right then, let’s fast forward to September 24, 2050 when we've realized we do need to debate our global issues. Now the world does have global elections. An election was held today, against a backdrop of a world depression: Industry struggling with climate change mass migration, local wars, loss of biodiversity, resource scarcity, energy insecurity, There are also frequent (and expensive) natural disasters, food and water shortages. New infectious diseases of livestock and humans constantly appear…. Hopelessness and desperation grip a planet that is much poorer than back in 2040. The election offers the chance to choose the leader of our world government and its policy agenda for the next 5 years. The world's development experts have spoken about what we need. There were two main candidates In the election, representing two parties with different philosophies on how to approach humanity's crisis:
The Free and Rich Party led by 70 yr old Dutch businessman, Jan van Moneybags promised tax cuts and increased resource extraction to stimulate global industry and create jobs. His “humanity trading its way to sustainability” programme offers stimulus packages to squeeze the last oil from Canadian and Siberian shale. "Climate change has got as bad as it will get" he said, " Sure, Arctic summer sea ice is gone, but Antarctica will be there for as long as I live. Lets not worry about the environment, all we need is prosperity, now. Human ingenuity has always solved problems. I'll give you less government...and less tax! If Government just gets out of the way talented self-interested individuals will seize the day as the “the Invisible hand” . The world is here for the taking for those with the drive." His (gender non-inclusive) campaign by-line “Men and Markets: relentlessly free” convinced no-one . Lacking charisma he plummeted in the polls.
Jan’s rival 25 yr old Guatemalteca Esperanza de Futuro Santos' campaign was much wider. She spoke passionately and engagingly about future generations, the environment and inequalities. Seeing fiscal policy and rampant growth as problems not solutions her “Beyond Tomorrow” party will raise taxes, distribute wealth and provide health and education all over the globe, not just the north. She'll use some of the extra tax on climate change mitigation and prevention. Her election slogan “Live More, Consume Less” seized the world’s mood, especially women and young people. She soared in the polls. “Esperanza vs Moneybags- a Foregone Conclusion” headlined yesterday’s paper.
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Results just in from today's planetary plebiscite. It is a landslide.
Free and Rich 76.8%
Beyond Tomorrow 23.1 %.
Legalize Whaling .1%
. Yep. A foregone conclusion! So it goes.
What do you think? Are elections really barometers of humanity? Do human groups always go for short term and self-centred choices? Under what conditions do we make decisions on wide and long term criteria? Any other comments?