Watching Australian politics from afar has provided some light entertainment of a real democracy at work, together with some of the short comings of the system. When compared to the stability offered by the “Singapore model” it can look a bit dysfunctional at times. Don’t get me wrong, I support the full democratic option over any other political system we have on offer. However, there are times when you just wonder if a benevolent dictatorship would get things moving along quite nicely; for a while at least.
The latest episode in the ongoing saga of “How to Make a Political Party Implode” is the challenge from Kevin Rudd for the leadership of the Australian Labor Party. Julia Gillard, the incumbent prime minister, actual took the leadership from Mr. Rudd in a similar fight back in 2010.
Before the last election the mix of comments on an Australian news site that I frequent were fairly balanced between Labor and Liberal supporters. The election result confirmed that mix with no clear majority won by either main party. This forced Labor to form a minority government with the help of some independents and the Greens.
Over time, as each policy failure and broken promise piled up, the sentiment shifted to be strongly against the Labor government. I now frequently read comments that include “I used to always vote Labor, but I will not be voting for Labor at the next election.”
The opinion polls of various newspapers and the dedicated polling companies all reflect the pattern in the comment pages.
The first time the government was facing certain annihilation at the next election Ms Gillard challenged Mr. Rudd and won the caucus vote to take over as prime minister. This resulted in a brief surge of support for Labor with Australia’s first woman prime minister at the helm. It soon ended as people took stock of how the leadership challenge was executed (rather nastily) combined with continuing policy failures and broken promises.
With opinion polls again in the doldrums and Kevin Rudd itching for his old job back rumours of another leadership challenge was all over the Australian media again. This was doing nothing for consumer and business confidence, which has been on a steady downward trend since 2010.
Most people I know in Australia want an election to throw out the government and put in a new one. Unfortunately that’s not too likely just yet, so let’s look at some of the alternative outcomes for tomorrow’s leadership ballot.
If Gillard wins with a large majority then Rudd will be finished for the foreseeable future, if not terminating any prospect of ever leading the Labor Party again. I don’t think it will be quite the landslide victory that most people seem to predict though. This is because politicians never easily give up power and with Gillard as leader they are absolutely doomed to lose at the next election. Rudd gives them a far better chance of getting re-elected and staying on in power according to all the opinion polls. Therefore, if there is a resounding defeat of Rudd then it is a damning reflection on his apparent problems with his personality and management style.
If Gillard wins with a small majority it gives Rudd a chance of coming back for a second attack, although he has personally assured everyone that he would not challenge Jullia Gillard again. This of course leaves the door open to challenge someone else in the future! Gillard would be in a weak position, knowing that many MPs in her party no longer have confidence in her ability to lead and win the next election.
Rudd winning with either a small or large majority would probably have enough momentum to give him some time and space to repair the damage of his own and Gillard’s government’s poor performance since the last election. However, I feel the electorate has had enough of Labor, especially the two leadership challengers, and will throw the government out with a resounding defeat.
If Rudd loses he has a few options up his sleeve. He could quietly go to the back benches for the rest of Julia Gillard’s leadership. If the result is close he could try again, breaking his promise as most politicians are known to do. In utter frustration he may decide to support a vote of no confidence, or even quit the Labor party and become an independent, both forcing an election!
Whatever happens, it has certainly been entertaining, but for all the wrong reasons. You just don’t expect elected members of a modern, open, democratic nation like Australia to act like school children. I do believe the result will be closer than many expect, just on the self-preservation mentality that is inherit in all humans, especially politicians.
In the mean time Singaporeans will probably be reminded of what a real democracy is like by their own leadership and told of how good the PAP is for them and their country.