The UK is due to go to the polls on December 12 in an attempt to overcome parlaiment’s impasse over Brexit. Given the latest missed deadline of October 31, it seems inevitable that Brexit will dominate this campaign. Boris Johnson and the Conservatives are blaming parliament for blocking the passage of a Brexit agreement. Jeremy Corbyn and Labour are highlighting the dangers of Johnson’s deal, as well as pointing out that the government pulled the deal before parliament could vote on it, somewhat undermining the idea that MPs have blocked it.
While politicians may be keen to offer such narratives, voters may – and indeed should – express different priorities. They should ask more of candidates than a simple re-run of either the 2016 referendum or the 2017 general election, both of which have been unable to deliver change.
Politicians can help this by ensuring that debating Brexit does not come at the expense of other topics. To achieve that, the narrative on the biggest issue of the day needs to be focused and specific so that it is less likely to sprawl out and dominate everything. If politicians can do this then we can begin to talk about other issues.
Even if a new government were to agree a deal quickly and get it through the new parliament in time for the January 31 deadline, that would not be the end of the story. After the deal passes, the UK will enter a transition period with a new deadline of December 31 2020. Any agreements made here will set out the UK’s future relationship with the EU. This will be much more difficult to negotiate than the current withdrawal agreement (not least as this agreement will encompass far more than the current withdrawal agreement).
It seems remote to suggest that the future relationship – something more complex than the process of leaving – can be negotiated any quicker than the withdrawal agreement. Bearing in mind there already been two and a half years of negotiations up to now, it is likely that these negotiations will consume most of the time afforded to the next parliament. They may not even be completed before the next election in 2024.
One problem is that without knowing when or how the big Brexit issues will be resolved, the debate can only revolve around abstract ideas. This was a key problem in the original Brexit campaign. Important questions could be left unanswered because so much was unknown. At times, voters were even fed misinformation.
One function of an election is to hold incumbent governments and MPs to account – and in order to do this in the future, greater attention needs to be placed on demanding politicians present feasible policy suggestions rather than chasing fanciful ideas.
We should be wary of MPs or candidates who appear able to promise a range of options to different (sub-groups of) voters. Even in the early stages of the campaign we can see divergence between those advocating a form of Brexit. Johnson is promoting his deal and new deadline of 31 January 2020, while Nigel Farage, at the launch of the Brexit Party, criticised the deal and suggested a further extension to July 2020 could be possible.
Here it is important to note the language used on the campaign trail. What a party hopes to achieve in Brexit negotiations is not necessarily the same as what they can achieve. They may not even have control over the things they are promising. Remember any deal (including any alterations or new deals) will have to be signed off by the EU.
Even if we accept the narrative that Brexit can be “resolved” in the next parliament, the question then left is what comes next? What are the post-Brexit plans? Any aspiring government simply cannot wait until the end of Brexit to start implementing policies. Parliament has been bogged down by Brexit ever since Article 50 was triggered in 2017 and has carried only a fraction of the amount of work it might otherwise.
Candidates in the elections could help to offer some reassurances about Brexit by talking about other policy areas too. A government looking to hold office until May 2024 will need to address environmental changes, the future of the union, the legacy of austerity and plans for reigniting the economy, as well as traditionally salient issues such as welfare (including the NHS) and education.
Clarity on domestic policies will also have the effect of reassuring voters who are worried by the different permutations that Brexit may offer. And such clarity could, in turn, help to mitigate some of the economic risks associated with Brexit. If we can’t be sure about what will happen after Brexit, a party hoping to reach government could at least offer stability on other matters.
And so the UK will head to an election on December 12 to try to resolve the spectacular mess that is Brexit. It’s an outcome many of us had been predicting for some time.
The only surprise is that it came about as it did. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has, after all, just managed what seemed nearly impossible a mere few weeks back, which is to both achieve a compromise agreement with the European Union over the terms of withdrawal and convince the House of Commons that it should vote in favour of it, and by a princely majority of 30.
So why did Johnson seek an election? And why, at the third attempt, did Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn agree? More generally, will an election get us out of the royal mess the UK finds itself in?
As far as Johnson is concerned, he wants Brexit, but he doesn’t want any old Brexit. He wants a “proper” Brexit, a clean break from the EU that will, as his mantra insists, deliver the UK the ability to negotiate its own trade deals.
The only way Johnson can do that is by differentiating between the trade regime for Northern Ireland and for the rest of the UK. The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) doesn’t like it. Most of the House of Commons doesn’t like it.
So rather than try to push through an agreement that would be sliced and diced on its way through the House of Commons until it was no longer recognisable as Brexit, Johnson prefers to roll the dice and trust the instincts of the electorate to deliver a larger majority. This will in turn permit him to ignore the DUP and isolate the softer elements of his own parliamentary party, assuming they haven’t been deselected in the run-up to the election.
Why did Corbyn agree after turning down an election three times in recent weeks?
He didn’t want an election with the threat of a no-deal October 31 deadline. With an agreement in place with the EU for the terms of the UK’s exit, the objection is no longer valid.
Corbyn may be 15 or so points behind in the polls, but he was over 20 points down in the polls against Theresa May in 2017, and what happened? Labour fought an excellent campaign and shredded May’s majority to the point where her premiership became defunct.
He feels he can do this again running on a platform against austerity and inequality.
He may be right. This election is difficult to call, not least because of Labour’s own position on Brexit, which is a nuanced one, to put it mildly. Its pitch is that a Labour government will renegotiate the only-just-renegotiated withdrawal agreement and put the deal to the people in another referendum.
So they think they can do better than Johnson as far as negotiating with the EU is concerned, but they’re not prepared to campaign in favour of what it is they renegotiate. Let’s just say the subtlety of that position may be lost on some parts of the electorate.
But this isn’t going to be a contest of Labour versus the Conservatives. There are new elements in the mix and some more familiar ones to make it even harder to see through the darkened glass.
The new elements are Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party standing for an even cleaner and harder Brexit than Johnson’s. There is also the Liberal Democrats, who have repositioned themselves under new leader Jo Swinson as a remain party – not a referendum party, but an out and out remain party. With around 50% of the electorate favouring remain over any iteration of Brexit, this is fertile soil for creating upsets in marginal seats, perhaps even Johnson’s own.
The more familiar elements that complicate matters further are the regional parties in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The Welsh voted to leave in 2016, but with a patrician Tory in No. 10, will they back leave parties in the election? It has to be doubtful.
The remainer Scottish National Party (SNP) will no doubt do very well in Scotland. Northern Ireland may lean even more heavily to remain parties in the knowledge that unionism was sold out in Johnson’s compromise with the EU.
The honest answer is no one knows. Party loyalties will be near irrelevant in what is being billed as the “Brexit election”.
The one constant in all this is that the country remains as deeply split as it was in 2016. No big swings in opinion have taken place to suggest a clear victory is likely for either remain or leave-backing political parties. And there are narratives around austerity and inequality that may play out strongly, as they did in 2017.
A hung parliament is, it would seem, the most likely destination. If it is, then what of Brexit? In this scenario, Brexit continues to be what it has been for the past three years, a kind of impossible object of desire: elusive, divisive, polarising.
Many pundits seem to think Johnson is a shoo-in for a majority and will therefore get his Brexit. But don’t be so sure.
Remainer forces are buoyant that they will in effect get a chance to rerun the 2016 referendum. They will be better organised and more focused on the possibilities for tactical voting presented by a single-issue election.
There is a chance – just a chance – that far from smoothing the UK’s exit from the EU, the election blows up in Johnson’s face and delivers a remain parliament.
The next 13 months will see American politics completely dominated by the fate of Donald Trump. As the House of Representatives moves towards impeaching him, leading to a hearing which then moves to the Senate, the Democrats will be engaged in an increasingly bitter contest for the nomination to run against Trump in the November 2020 elections.
At this stage, it appears there are the numbers in the house for impeachment, which entails formally charging the president with “high crimes and misdemeanors”. Their indictment then moves to the Senate, which can remove the president by a two-thirds majority, in a hearing chaired by the chief justice.
Because 2020 is an election year, both sides will manage proceedings with an eye to the November poll. It is possible the house will vote before the end of the year: the decision to impeach Bill Clinton for lying under oath was made in the last three months of 1998.
Clinton was cleared by the Senate by the following February, so it is also possible the Senate will hold its own proceedings before most of the presidential primaries commence. It takes two-thirds of the Senate to remove a president from office, which has never happened.
While several Republican house representatives have expressed concern about the president’s behaviour, the overwhelming majority of Republican politicians are either supporting him or remaining silent.
Rather as Boris Johnston seems to have captured the British Conservative Party, so Trump has imposed himself on the Republicans. Those who three years ago assailed his unfitness for the presidency, such as Lindsey Graham and Ted Cruz, are now his loudest defenders. Meanwhile, several of his opponents are withdrawing from political office.
However, Senator Mitt Romney, Republican candidate for president in 2012, has indicated his disquiet, which is almost certainly shared by others. If the house uncovers more apparently illegal activity on Trump, and if public opinion seems to be turning against the president, there are several other senators who may follow, if only to preserve their own positions. Republican senators are facing re-election in states such as Colorado, Iowa, Maine and North Carolina, where they are increasingly vulnerable.
There is an odd historical parallel with the history of Senator Joe McCarthy, who led increasingly virulent anti-Communist crusades in the early 1950s and whose protégé, Roy Cohn, in turn influenced Trump.
Eventually, Republican senators turned on McCarthy, and censured but did not expel him. But this happened only once it was clear that public support for McCarthy was collapsing, which is so far not evident for Trump.
Faced with possible impeachment and loss of support, Richard Nixon resigned. It is difficult to see Trump doing this – it is more likely he will become even more irrational and vengeful as the process winds on. Right-wing media will echo the president’s claim that the impeachment hearings represent treason, with real danger of violent clashes between supporters and opponents of Trump.
For the Democrats, the best outcome would be a split within Republican ranks, which leaves Trump in office but weakened and vulnerable to a challenge for re-nomination. Removing Trump would place Vice President Mike Pence in office, and presumably ensured of nomination in 2020.
The dilemma for the Democrats is that the impeachment process will dominate the news cycle as they jockey for position going into next year’s long battle for the presidential nomination. Trump will use the allegations to focus attention on former Vice President Joe Biden, whose son’s business dealings in Ukraine triggered the impeachment inquiry.
Biden may hope this will allow him to emerge as the injured defender of political propriety, but he will be tarnished through guilt by association, and is likely to slip further in the polls. Biden represents some of the traditional working class and African American base of the Democratic Party, and how they react could determine the ultimate Democrat candidate.
At the moment, Elizabeth Warren challenges Biden’s lead in the polls, with Bernie Sanders the only other candidate consistently supported by more than 10% of Democrats. None of the others in a crowded field — 12 have qualified to take part in the next televised Democratic debate — have much support, and they will start to drop out once the primary season begins in February 2020.
If Biden continues to lose support, there is room for someone to emerge as the moderate front-runner, given that both Warren and Sanders represent the more radical instincts of the party. This is presumably why so many candidates are determined to continue campaigning, even when some of them rarely muster 2% in the polls.
Were Sanders’ current health problems to lead to his withdrawal most of his support would presumably switch to Warren. Predictions are risky, and my record is poor. But it is increasingly likely that the Democrats will nominate someone other than an old white man in 2020, betting on a figure like Barack Obama who can galvanise a bitterly divided nation and persuade people to turn out and vote.
After months of delays and uncertainty, Afghanistan is set to hold its presidential election on Saturday. This election, the fourth since the overthrow of the Taliban regime in 2001, has critical implications for the political stability and security of the country.
Most importantly, it will test the resilience of the country’s fragile democratic process and shape the conditions under which the now-defunct negotiations between the United States and the Taliban can be resumed with more meaningful participation from Kabul.
And if the vote produces a broadly acceptable and functioning government – which is not a guarantee after the last presidential election in 2014 and parliamentary elections in 2018 – it will have profound repercussions for the Afghan people.
Nearly two decades after the US-led coalition invaded the country and ousted the Taliban, Afghanistan is still in a downward spiral. In June, the country replaced Syria as the world’s least peaceful country in the Institute for Economics and Peace’s Global Peace Index report. The BBC tracked the violence in the country in August and found that on average, 74 Afghan men, women and children died each day across the country.
Further, the number of Afghans below the poverty line increased from 33.5% in 2011 to nearly 55% in 2017.
And in another bleak assessment of where things are at the moment, Afghan respondents in a recent Gallup survey rated their lives worse than anyone else on the planet. A record-high 85% of respondents categorised their lives as “suffering”, while the number of people who said they were “thriving” was zero.
Despite the major challenges posed by insecurity and risks of electoral fraud, Afghanistan’s recent elections have been serious contests between the country’s various political elites.
Ordinary voters take extraordinary risks to participate in the polls. Thanks to a dynamic media sector, these contests involve spirited debates about policy-making and the visions of the candidates. This is particularly true when it comes to presidential elections, as the country’s 2004 Constitution concentrated much of the political and executive power in the office of the president.
There have been serious tests of Afghanistan’s nascent democracy before, however.
The 2014 election was tainted by allegations of widespread fraud, pushing the country to the brink of a civil war.
The political crisis was averted by the formation of the national unity government, in which Ashraf Ghani became president and his main challenger in the election, Abdullah Abdullah, took the position of chief executive officer, with powers similar to a prime minister.
Since the withdrawal of most of the US and NATO forces from Afghanistan in 2014, the Taliban has considerably expanded the areas under its influence. Nonetheless, the insurgent group has been unable to score any strategic military victories by gaining control of provincial or population centres.
In 2016, President Donald Trump came to the White House with the promise of ending the war in Afghanistan. However, after a meticulous assessment of the risks associated with a complete troop withdrawal, he backed away from that pledge.
The deployment of additional troops significantly escalated the military campaign against the Taliban but failed to decisively change the security dynamics in the country.
Then, in 2018, the Trump administration formally began engaging the Taliban in a series of direct negotiations in Qatar. The process was called off by Trump earlier this month when it was reportedly at the threshold of an agreement.
Critics noted, however, the many flaws of this approach and the haste with which the negotiations were conducted by Zalmay Khalilzad, the US special representative for Afghan reconciliation.
Ironically, at the insistence of the Taliban, the process excluded the government of Afghanistan, which the Taliban refuses to recognise as the legitimate authority in the country. This led to phased negotiations, whereby a deal between the US and the Taliban was expected to be followed by an intra-Afghan dialogue and eventually a ceasefire.
A successful presidential election that produces a broadly acceptable outcome can significantly strengthen the position of the new government in negotiating and implementing a peace process with the Taliban. This is one reason why Ghani does not want to be sidelined from the negotiations.
The election involves a significant number of political players and coalitions, but is essentially a replay of the 2014 poll between Ghani and Abdullah. While none of the other 13 candidates have a realistic chance of winning, they can split the votes to prevent one of the leaders from claiming victory in the first round. A run-off was required in the last two presidential elections in 2009 and 2014.
Another factor is the threat of violence from the Taliban. The group has already vowed to violently disrupt the election. In recent weeks, it has claimed responsibility for deadly attacks on election rallies, including a devastating attack on the campaign office of Amrullah Saleh, the first vice-president on Ghani’s ticket.
Insecurity will also likely prevent significant numbers of people from participating in the process. The number of polling stations has significantly dropped to less than 5,000 this year compared to 7,000 in 2014, highlighting the deteriorating security conditions.
There are also fears that more polling stations will be closed on election day, both for security reasons and political reasons (the latter in areas that are likely to vote for opposition candidates).
This election is unlikely to be a game changer in the face of the magnitude and complexity of the challenges facing Afghanistan and its people.
Nonetheless, the election presents a rare opportunity for the country’s people to exercise their rights to choose who governs the country.
And if the supporters of the leading candidates stay committed to a transparent process, even a reasonably credible outcome can go a long way in restoring confidence in the country’s shaky institutions and strengthening the position of the government in any future peace negotiations with the Taliban.
This article was corrected on September 27, 2019. The forthcoming election is the fourth since the Taliban was overthrown in 2001, not the third as originally stated.
Conservative former congressman Joe Walsh recently announced he would challenge Donald Trump for the Republican Party’s 2020 Presidential nomination.
Challenging an incumbent president is not new: both Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter faced very significant challenges when they sought a further term. But Trump’s hold on Republicans suggests that no challenge is likely to succeed.
For the Democrats, however, the race to oppose Trump is now wide open and bitter.
The American political system allows participation through primary elections in ways unknown in our tightly controlled party system.
Millions of voters take part in choosing the candidate of their party. This can have strange consequences; some of Bernie Sanders’ supporters were so disaffected by the nomination of Hillary Clinton that perhaps 10% of them voted for Trump.
Candidates must damage their opponents without providing ammunition that can be used against their party in the November elections.
Presidential primaries stretch across the first half of 2020. These include several key contests determined by caucuses, which involve actual attendance for several hours to register one’s choice. Because Iowa traditionally leads off, huge attention is paid to the results there.
Iowa is a state with a population of just over 3 million, and is far whiter than the United States. Its caucuses are followed by three other small states: New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina, which between them start to look like the country as a whole.
Every Democratic candidate is spending time and resources in the early states, with teams of volunteers criss-crossing the small towns of Iowa and New Hampshire and wooing minority communities in Nevada (Hispanic) and South Carolina (African-American).
By the end of February, expect the field to have shrunk from the current dozen or so serious contenders to about half that number. On March 3 comes a slew of votes across 16 states, including California and Texas. The results that day will either produce a clear front runner or a dogged three-way fight lasting three more months.
One of the oddities of the Democratic race so far is that the two leading candidates and the incumbent president are all white men in their seventies, well past the accepted American retirement age.
The two best known Democratic contenders are Senator Bernie Sanders and former Vice President Joe Biden, who cover the ideological spectrum of the Democratic Party: Sanders on the left and Biden on the right. Both entered the race with considerable money and name recognition, and both have started slipping in the polls as younger candidates have gained attention.
Some current polls now place Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts as equalling their support. Warren shares some of Sanders’ radical positions on health care and taxation, but she is careful to not define herself as a socialist, and she has the same grasp of policy as did Hillary Clinton.
Trump would undoubtedly campaign against Warren as another effete east coast liberal, invoking the failure of two previous candidates from Boston, Michael Dukakis and John Kerry.
Democrat voters looking for someone younger and different may swing behind Senator Kamala Harris from California, a former Attorney-General who is positioning herself as someone who transcends both racial and gender prejudices.
Polls in Iowa and New Hampshire show Harris and Pete Buttigieg as the only other candidates who consistently poll over 10%. Buttigieg is the unexpected dark horse: gay, young, ex-military and mayor of South Bend, Indiana, which is smaller than Geelong. He far outpolls more experienced candidates – one of them, Kirsten Gillibrand, has already withdrawn.
The candidates are united in their dislike of Donald Trump, but this is a battle of egos and ideologies. Do the Democrats seek to win over Trump supporters in key states by appealing to a mythical “centre”? Do they try to win over Republicans, particularly educated women who made up some of the base for their victories in last year’s House of Representatives election? Or do they concentrate on their potential supporters among the young and minority communities who are less likely to vote?
In a country where fewer than 60% of those eligible bother to vote, the last option would seem the most viable, but that requires candidates who can speak to the disinterested and the disenfranchised.
Both racism and sexism played a role in Trump’s victory, and Biden’s current lead in the polls suggests many Democrats feel an older white man is their safest choice. But if the Democrats are to galvanise young and minority voters to turn out they need a candidate who is clearly very different to Trump.
The electoral college system means that winning the popular vote, as Clinton did, does not guarantee victory. In key mid-western industrial states the vote may well be determined by the consequences of Trump’s current economic policies.
Much can change before Democratic supporters start declaring their choice in six months. Several of the also-rans may surprise us; maybe one of the front-runners will drop out.
Were Bernie Sanders to withdraw and throw his support to Elizabeth Warren, she would become the front-runner; it’s less clear where Biden’s supporters would go, but if he polls poorly in February, he is likely to fade away.
At this point in 2015, pundits were predicting a presidential race between Clinton and Jeb Bush, with Clinton favoured to win. Nothing in politics is predictable.
On the morning of the last Monday in April, 2019, federal election officials opened the doors of more than 500 pre-poll voting centres around Australia, and waited for the voters to turn up. It was the first day of the three-week early voting period leading up to the May 18 election day.
They didn’t have to wait long. By the end of the day, 123,793 voters had walked through the doors and cast their votes – more than the enrolment of an average House of Representatives electorate, and a record number for the first day of pre-polling.
That evening, the rush to the polls attracted comment at the first leaders’ debate. Opposition leader Bill Shorten claimed people were voting early because they wanted “change”; Prime Minister Scott Morrison insisted it showed people “deserve” to know the cost of opposition policies.
In turn, pre-polling attracted more media attention than in previous campaigns.
Pre-polling increased steadily through the campaign, culminating on the last Friday with 710,000 pre-poll voters. The total for the full three weeks was 4.7 million, or 31.6% of total turnout.
Another 1.6 million voted early by post. In short, nearly four in ten voters decided, before the campaign had finished, that they had heard enough and were ready to cast their votes.
Pre-polling has come of age. While it has been on the rise in recent electoral cycles, it reached record levels federally in 2019. Casting a vote before election day has been transformed, over a very few electoral cycles, from the occasional practice of a limited number of eligible voters to the habitual form of electoral participation of a large minority of the electorate.
Despite the popularity of pre-polling, there is a puzzling unevenness about it. Some voters love it more than others. Australian Electoral Commission data show the Northern Territory, with its own particular geography and demography, had the highest form of pre-poll voting at 42.9% of turnout. Victoria (37.2%), ACT (36.5%) and Queensland (35.6%) were well above average, while Tasmania (19%), SA (21.7%) and WA (22.9%) lagged. NSW sat just below the national average at 30.1%.
While the rates of all states and territories were lower in 2016, their relative percentages were very similar.
Pre-polling is particularly strong in rural electorates. Ten of the 15 electorates in the country with the highest pre-poll percentage were rural electorates, despite the fact that the AEC has less than one third of seats classed in this category. All 15 of these seats are in Victoria, NSW or Queensland.
By contrast, 13 of the 15 electorates with the lowest percentage of pre-poll voters came from WA, Tasmania and South Australia, and just three of these were from outside the main metropolitan areas.
In terms of political allegiance, the inclination of early voters is well known: those voting early have tended to lean towards the Coalition. As psephologist Peter Brent has shown, this gap has only widened in recent electoral cycles, despite the growing number of early voters.
In 2004, the Coalition did 4% better in early voting than voting on election day; by 2019 this gap rose to just over 5%. There is strong evidence for Coalition mobilisation of postal voters, with 312,391 postal vote applications received from Coalition parties in 2019, and just 149,582 from the Labor party.
The reasons why people vote early are still widely debated, but the key reasons are convenience and access.
There is also evidence that indicates older people like voting earlier. Such arguments are borne out in those figures, given the older demographics of rural areas, and the greater distances that voters may need to travel to access voting booths.
One factor cited as an explanation for the increase in early voting is the easing of restrictions on the practice. A number of jurisdictions including Victoria (2010), Queensland (2015), and Western Australia (2016) have made it easier to vote early at pre-poll booths for state elections by removing the need for voters to provide justifications for doing so. The rationale when doing so has been that this would make such voting forms more accessible.
While we would expect to see these jurisdictions record higher levels of pre-poll voting, the outcomes of these changes in legislation have been mixed (see chart two).
Victoria’s 2018 state election recorded the highest levels of pre-poll voting of any state, at 37.29%, and this may be linked to their decision to deregulate the practice earlier than elsewhere. But at their last state elections, WA, while recording a boost in postal voting (which remains regulated) had a pre-poll rate of 15.47%, and Queensland of 19.64% – both still well short of Victoria.
While pre-poll voting in Queensland and WA increased after deregulation, it did not increase any more markedly than other jurisdictions that retained regulation.
Moreover, each of these jurisdictions recorded a prepoll rate for the 2019 Federal election equal to, or higher than, the previous state election, despite the Commonwealth retaining the need for voters to justify their decision to do so.
While in Victoria the rate was almost identical, in WA and Queensland the Federal rate of pre-poll was much higher.
An examination of early voting data, particularly around the practice of pre-polling, demonstrates clear but unexplained trends. Tasmania, WA and South Australia lag well behind the other states and territories in pre-polling. There is even clearer unevenness within states, where rural and regional voters are voting early in significantly higher numbers than their metropolitan counterparts.
The data also indicate that making forms of early voting more accessible (such as by deregulating pre-polling) has in itself not led to marked increases in the practice.
What we also know is that the large rates of early voting have changed the relationship between voters and the people or parties they are choosing to vote for, in that many voters cast their ballots before the parties have released all their policies.
Other unanticipated effects have emerged. In 2019, we saw many early voters casting votes for candidates who were later disendorsed by their own parties.
This arises because the early voting period occupies the maximum available time on the campaign calendar, beginning as soon as possible after close of nominations. This may create a dysfunction between voters and the parties candidates claim to represent on the ballot.
Pre-polling also leads to uneven playing fields between major parties as opposed to minor parties and independents, due to the latter having fewer resources.
There are also additional challenges faced by electoral commissions in the provision of pre-poll centres and staff to manage this surge. This research has been published in The Conversation and in a previous report on voting flexibility late last year.
The increased uptake of early voting in 2019 only exacerbates these implications, many of which may not have been anticipated until recently.
While early voting is important in providing greater accessibility to voters and encouraging turnout, thought should be given to reviewing the full implications through the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters (JSCEM).
One possibility is to retain the current forms of early voting but limit the pre-poll period to two weeks rather than three. This would retain flexibility for voters, but make the process more manageable for all the stakeholders concerned.
The citizenship provision of the Constitution’s section 44 has raised its head again, with the eligibility of Treasurer Josh Frydenberg being challenged by an elector in his Kooyong seat.
Michaal Staindl has filed a petition with the High Court, which sits as the Court of Disputed Returns, alleging Frydenberg is ineligible “because he is a citizen of the Republic of Hungary”.
The petition says
The respondent’s mother arrived in Australia in 1950 in possession of a valid passport, inferred to be a valid Hungarian passport. This indicates that she continued to be a citizen of Hungary after 1948.
Pursuant to the law of Hungary, all children born to the respondent’s mother are a citizen of Hungary from the time of their birth and in the premise, the respondent is a citizen of Hungary
Staindl told Guardian Australia he was pursuing the action against Frydenberg, whom he knew, because “he’s consistently betrayed me, the electorate and the country on climate change”.
The Guardian reported that Staindl “said if Frydenberg shows evidence he is not Hungarian he could drop the case”; otherwise, he said, he would “see it through”.
Under Section 44, a person cannot sit in the federal parliament if he or she is “under any acknowledgement of allegiance, obedience, or adherence to a foreign power, or is a subject or a citizen or entitled to the rights or privileges of a subject or citizen of a foreign power”.
In his “statement of member’s qualifications relating to section 44 and 45 of the constitution”, posted on Wednesday, Frydenberg records that his mother – who arrived in Australia as a refugee – was a Hungarian citizen between 1943 and 1948.
Frydenberg said “I have clear legal advice that I do not hold citizenship of another country.”
Section 44, which has several prohibitions, cut a swathe through the last parliament, overwhelmingly on citizenship grounds, hitting Coalition, Labor, and crossbench parliamentarians and triggering multiple byelections.
Although Frydenberg’s situation was canvassed during the previous term Labor backed off, given his mother had escaped the Holocaust.
Frydenberg, in comments in the last term, said his mother had arrived stateless. “It is absolutely absurd to think that I could involuntarily acquire Hungarian citizenship by rule of a country that rendered my mother stateless,” he said then.
Separately, Frydenberg’s eligibility is being challenged under the Electoral Act over Liberal party Chinese-language signs. This challenge is being brought by Oliver Yates, who ran as an independent against Frydenberg. It is claimed the signs were likely to have misled voters into thinking that to cast a valid vote they had to put the figure 1 beside the Liberal candidate.
A similar challenge over Chinese-language signs has been brought by a Chisholm voter against the new Liberal MP for Chisholm, Gladys Liu.
The ALP is not involved in the challenges.
The ALP’s acting national secretary Paul Erickson said in a statement that Labor was “disappointed by the tactics employed by the Liberal Party at the election, which went well beyond the accepted bounds of a vigorously contested campaign – especially in the divisions of Chisholm and Kooyong.
“The Chinese-language signs used by the Liberal Party in those contests were clearly designed to look like official Australian Electoral Commission voting instructions using the AEC colours, for the clear purpose of misleading Mandarin and Cantonese-speaking voters into voting for the Liberal Party,” he said.
But while there was a strong case that the signs breached the Electoral Act Labor was not seeking to overturn the results in Chisholm and Kooyong, given the cost and time involved, Erickson said.
Labor National Secretary Noah Carroll has resigned and the party’s national executive has set up a review to examine its election campaign performance and the reasons for the unexpected loss.
The post mortem will be jointly headed by former South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill and former federal minister Craig Emerson.
Other members of the committee are Linda White, an official of the Australian Services Union; Queensland Senator Anthony Chisholm, a former state secretary; John Graham, a member of the NSW upper house and a former state assistant general secretary, and Lenda Oshalem, formerly an official in the Western Australian branch of the party.
The review will be wide-ranging but done quickly, reporting in October.
It will look at Labor’s campaign strategy and organisation, including digital campaigning, engagement with unions and third-party campaigns, fund-raising, policy, preference negotiations and strategy, polling, candidate selection, target seat campaigning, media strategy, gender diversity in the campaign, and the methods used by opponents that were particularly effective against the party.
After the party’s shock loss in May, stories emerged of tensions in the campaign, with a good deal of blame shifting over the result. Carroll, who is from the right and as Victorian secretary had run the successful 2014 state campaign, had both detractors and supporters.
One issue of controversy revolved around party research. John Utting, who had a long record running polling for the party, was replaced by YouGov Galaxy for quantitative polling. Utting did just the qualitative (focus group) research.
Assistant secretary Paul Erickson will become acting national secretary until a replacement for Carroll is decided.
The Friday executive meeting had been due to consider the expulsion of construction union official John Setka, but he has been given until July 15 to prepare his defence. Meanwhile, he has launched legal action to try to stymie his expulsion.
Labor leader Anthony Albanese said Setka would not succeed in heading off his ousting.
Albanese began his move against Setka on the ground he had denigrated anti-domestic violence campaigner Rosie Batty at a private union meeting – a claim that is contested. But Albanese has also said Setka should be thrown out of the party because of his general behaviour. He recently pleaded guilty to harassing his wife with a plethora of offensive text messages.
Albanese said on Friday he was not surprised Setka had started legal proceedings.
It always going to be the case given Mr Setka’s background in litigation. But the fact is that the Australian Labor Party has the right to determine who we want to be members, just like any organisation.
If a footy player, rugby league or AFL, had pleaded guilty essentially to two issues relating to harassment of a woman they’d be sacked by their club. We’ll sack John Setka and we’ll do it on July 15.
Australian elections have been won in outer metropolitan and regional electorates, but Labor did badly in swing terms in those types of seats at the May 18 election. In inner metropolitan areas, where Labor had swings in its favour, most seats are safe for one side or the other.
You can see this particularly in Queensland. The provincial seat of Capricornia blew out from a 0.6% LNP margin to 12.4%, the outer metropolitan seat of Forde from 0.6% to 8.6% and the rural seat of Flynn from 1.0% to 8.7%.
In NSW, the rural seat of Page went from a 2.3% to a 9.5% Nationals margin, and the provincial seat of Robertson from a 1.1% to 4.2% Liberal margin. Even in Victoria, the only state to swing to Labor in two party terms, the outer metropolitan seat of La Trobe, went from a 3.5% to a 4.5% Liberal margin.
Ignoring seats with strong independent challengers like Warringah and Wentworth, the biggest swings to Labor occurred in seats already held by Labor, or safe conservative seats. There was a 6.4% swing to Labor in Julie Bishop’s old seat of Curtin, but the Liberals still hold it by a 14.3% margin. The Liberals hold Higgins by a 3.9% margin despite a 6.1% swing to Labor.
After the election, the Coalition holds 77 of the 151 seats and Labor 68. Assuming there is no net change in the six crossbenchers, Labor will require a swing of 0.6% to gain the two seats needed to deprive the Coalition of a majority (Bass and Chisholm). To win more seats than the Coalition, Labor needs to gain five seats, a 3.1% swing. To win a majority (76 seats), Labor needs to gain eight seats, a 3.9% swing.
As Labor won 48.5% of the two-party vote at the election, it needs 49.1% to deprive the Coalition of a majority, 51.6% to win more seats than the Coalition, and 52.4% for a Labor majority. Mayo and Warringah were not counted in swings required as they are held by crossbenchers. Warringah is likely to be better for the Liberals in 2022 without Tony Abbott running.
It will be a bit harder for Labor than the 0.6% swing notionally needed to cost the Coalition a majority, as the Liberals now have a sitting member in Chisholm and defeated a Labor member in Bass. The Liberals will thus gain from personal vote effects in both seats.
There will be redistributions before the next election, which are likely to affect margins. But unless Labor improves markedly with the lower-educated, they risk losing the seat count while winning the popular vote at the next election.
Had the polls for this election been about right and Labor had won by 51.0-49.0 (2.5% better than their actual vote), they would have added just three seats – Bass, Chisholm and Boothby – and the Coalition would have had a 74-71 seat lead.
The Electoral Commission will eventually release details of how every minor party’s preferences flowed between Labor and the Coalition nationally and for each state, but this data is not available yet. However, we can make some deductions.
Nationally, Labor won 60.0% of all minor party preferences, down from 64.2% in 2016. This partly reflects the Greens share of all others falling from 44.0% in 2016 to 41.2%, but it also reflects more right-wing preference sources like One Nation and the United Australia Party (UAP). Had preferences from all parties flowed as they did in 2016, Labor would have won 49.2% of the two party vote, 0.7% higher than their actual vote.
In Queensland, Labor’s preference share dropped dramatically from 57.9% in 2016 to just 50.2%, even though the Greens share of all others rose slightly to 34.8% from 34.1% in 2016. Of the 29.6% who voted for a minor party in Queensland, the Greens won 10.3%, One Nation 8.9%, the UAP 3.5%, Katter’s Australian Party 2.5% and Fraser Anning’s party 1.8%. The flow of these right-wing preferences to the LNP almost compensated for Greens preferences to Labor.
Parties like One Nation and the UAP would have attracted most of their support from lower-educated voters who despised Labor and Bill Shorten. As I wrote in my previous article, there was a swing to the Coalition with lower-educated voters.
In the Senate that sits from July 1, the Coalition will hold 35 of the 76 senators, Labor 26, the Greens nine, One Nation two, Centre Alliance two, and one each for Cory Bernardi and Jacqui Lambie. The final Senate results were the same as in my June 3 preview of the likely Senate outcome.
The table below gives the senators elected for each state at this half-Senate election. A total of 40 of the 76 senators were up for election. The one “Other” senator is Jacqui Lambie in Tasmania. The table has been augmented with a percentage of seats won and a percentage of national Senate votes won at the election.
There was a small swing in late counting against the Coalition. When I wrote my previous Senate article, they had 38.3% of the national Senate vote (up 3.1%). They ended with 38.0% (up 2.8%).
The Senate results are not very proportional, but this is mostly a consequence of electing six senators per state. If all 40 senators were elected nationally, the outcome would be far more proportional to vote share.
The Coalition and Greens benefitted from having large fractions of quotas on primary votes, which Labor and One Nation did not have in most states. Lambie was the only “Other” to poll a large fraction of a quota, and so she is the only Other to win.
Changes in Senate seats since the pre-election parliament were Coalition up four, Lambie up one, Labor, Greens and One Nation steady, and the Liberal Democrats, Brian Burston, Derryn Hinch, Tim Storer and Fraser Anning all lost their seats.
Ignoring Bernardi’s defection from the Coalition, changes since the 2016 double-dissolution election were Coalition up six, Labor and Greens steady, One Nation down two, and Family First, Liberal Democrats, Hinch and Centre Alliance all down one.
In the Senate, voters are asked to number six boxes above the line or 12 below, though only one above or six below is required for a formal vote. All preferences are now voter-directed.
With six senators to be elected in each state, a quota was one-seventh of the vote, or 14.3%. In no state was there a narrow margin between the sixth elected senator and the next closest candidate. Preference information is sourced from The Poll Bludger for Queensland, Victoria, WA and SA here, for NSW here and for Tasmania here.
In NSW, the Coalition had 2.69 quotas on primary votes, Labor 2.08, the Greens 0.61 and One Nation 0.34. Jim Molan won 2.9% or 0.20 quotas from fourth on the Coalition ticket on below the line votes, but was excluded a long way from the end. The Greens and third Coalition candidate each got almost a quota with One Nation trailing well behind.
In Victoria, the Coalition had 2.51 quotas, Labor 2.17, the Greens 0.74 and One Nation and Hinch both 0.19. Hinch finished seventh ahead of One Nation, but was unable to close on the Coalition, with the third Coalition candidate elected just short of a quota. The Greens crossed quota earlier on Labor preferences.
In Queensland, the LNP had 2.72 quotas, Labor 1.57, One Nation 0.71 and the Greens 0.69. One Nation and the LNP’s third candidate, in that order, crossed quota, and the Greens extended their lead over Labor’s second candidate from 1.8% to 2.7% after preferences.
In WA, the Liberals had 2.86 quotas, Labor 1.93, the Greens 0.82 and One Nation 0.41. The third Liberal, second Labor and Greens passed quota in that order with One Nation well behind. The Liberals beat Labor to quota on Nationals and Shooters preferences.
In SA, the Liberals had 2.64 quotas, Labor 2.12, the Greens 0.76 and One Nation 0.34. The Greens and third Liberal, in that order, reached quota well ahead of One Nation.
In Tasmania, the Liberals had 2.20 quotas, Labor 2.14, the Greens 0.87, Lambie 0.62 and One Nation 0.24. Lisa Singh, who won from sixth on Labor’s ticket on below the line votes in 2016, had 5.7% or 0.40 quotas this time in below the line votes. On her exclusion, Labor’s second candidate and Lambie were elected with quotas, well ahead of One Nation; the Greens had crossed quota earlier.
Analyst Kevin Bonham has a detailed review of the Senate system’s performance at this election, after it was introduced before the 2016 election. One thing that should be improved is the issue of preferences for “empty box” groups above the line. Such boxes without a name beside them confused voters, and these groups received far fewer preferences than they would have done with a name.
On June 20, UK Conservative MPs finished winnowing the field of ten leadership candidates down to two. In the final round, Boris Johnson won 160 of the 313 Conservative MPs, Jeremy Hunt 77 and Michael Gove was eliminated with 75 votes.
Johnson and Hunt will now go to the full Conservative membership in a postal ballot expected to conclude by mid-July. Johnson is the heavy favourite to win, and become the next British PM. I will have a fuller report for The Poll Bludger by tomorrow.