Our triennial general elections are just two months away (Saturday 19th September) at which time I will be faced with four choices:
- Cast a vote in the End of Life Choice referendum
- Cast a vote in the Cannabis legalisation and control referendum
- Chose my electorate (constituency or voting district) representative
- Choose my preferred political party
Choices 1 and 2 are the easiest to deal with as the choice is binary: support or oppose. Unless some radically new information comes to hand before I cast my vote, I will be saying Yes, I support the End of Life Choice Act 2019 coming into force and Yes, I support the proposed Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill.
I have been a long time supporter of the concept of drug abuse being a health issue and not a criminal matter, so my decision to support the proposed legislation was a no brainer. I hope this is just the first step on the path to removing all drug use from criminality. I have a very different view of those who peddle the drugs.
The cannabis referendum is nonbinding, but the Labour Party and the Green Party are committed to introducing the proposed legislation to Parliament in 2021. The other parties have made no such commitment, so if Labour and/or the Greens do not form the next government, the proposed legislation will likely fade into oblivion, at least for a while..
On the other hand, the End of Life Choice Act has already been passed by Parliament and simply requires a 50% Yes vote from the electors to come into force. As it was first introduced into Parliament, I would not have supported it. While I personally felt it was too liberal on the grounds one could request assisted dying, my main objections were twofold:
- It would not have prevented those suffering from depression and other mental health issues from obtaining assisted dying
- There was no protection from individuals being pressured or persuaded into seeking assisted dying.
I believe that the act as it now stands answers those concerns. Also the grounds under which assisted dying can be granted has been tightened, although possibly more than I thought necessary. Perhaps this is a good thing. In my view, it’s better that a life not be taken unnecessarily than a life be spared unnecessarily. And like all laws, it can be amended in light of new evidence.
If I’m not mistaken this will be the first time any nation has held a referendum on assisted dying.
Choices 3 and 4 are more difficult for me as they are “multiple choice”. Choice 3 is perhaps the easiest as I base my choice on who I feel is the best person to represent myself and my community in Parliament. I’m more interested in them as a person than what their politics might be.
In this regard, I prefer someone who is open minded over someone with rigid views, someone who values consensus over majority decisions, someone who puts social justice above individual “rights”, someone who has shown service to the community over someone who has not, someone who recognises that the interests of minorities, be they ethnic, neurology, religious, or healthwise, are just as important as those of the majority, and finally, someone who I feel I can relate to. Such attributes can be found in people of any political persuasion. Ultimately who I choose as my local representative has no impact on the proportionality of the parties in Parliament.
In the bad old days of FPP I had to juggle the often conflicting issues my preferred MP (Member of Parliament) and the political party I preferred to govern the country. Not always an easy decision, and under MMP, something I no longer have to struggle with.
I was first able to vote in the general elections in 1972 – I had just missed out in the 1969 elections as the voting age was still 21 at that time. I have voted in every election since. By a quick estimate, that’s 16 general elections I’ve participated in.
Over that time I have voted for six different political parties! By a strange twist of fate, not one of the parties I have voted for has been in government (prior to 1996) or part of a governing coalition (since 1996). On only one occasion have I voted for either of the major parties, and that was before the introduction of MMP in 1996.
I don’t regard my vote as either a protest vote or a wasted vote. Perhaps, prior to MMP, it could be argued that any vote other than for the winning candidate was a wasted vote – in one election the party of the candidate I voted for gained almost 30% of the popular vote nationwide, but gained only a single seat in Parliament. That result was a significant catalyst in the call that eventually lead to the introduction of MMP.
Provided your preferred party reaches the 5% threshold, or gains an electorate seat, a party vote is never wasted. It counts towards the number of seats that party will have in Parliament.
Personally, I’d like to see the threshold lowered to 2% or removed altogether to encourage more diversity in Parliament, but such a change would require the support of one of the two major parties, and I don’t see that happening any time soon. Neither of them supported lowering the threshold to 4% as recommend by an electoral review a few years ago, and both voted against that change when Parliament considered the matter.
I usually decide who my electorate candidate will be by around a week before the election, but typically, all the policies I’d like to see implemented are spread across many parties, including both major parties, and my very final decision on preferred party is not made until, pencil in hand in the voting booth, I go to place a tick beside one of the parties listed on the ballot paper. I don’t think this year is going to be any different.