Tiny democracies vote this week
November 17, 2005 9:28 AM   Subscribe

Vote, damn you! Residents of Ascension Island have been taking part in their second ever general election, but they have been so apathetic that the returning officer gave up trying to enrol voters and just signed up all 697 of them herself.

Meanwhile, further South, it’s also election day in the Falkland Islands, complete with flying ballot boxes and a campaign in which, (rightly or wrongly), even 23 years after the conflict, many of the candidates manifestos juggle the usual municipal chit-chat that occupies a population of under 3,000 with matters of international diplomacy, such as councillors’ visits to the UN,and whether Argentina should be ignored, resisted or befriended.
posted by penguin pie (20 comments total)
 
No doubt The Islander and Penguin News (free sign-up) will be first with the respective results.
posted by penguin pie at 9:29 AM on November 17, 2005


I should emigrate to Ascension Island and run for elected office.
posted by QuarterlyProphet at 9:38 AM on November 17, 2005


In Australia, voting is mandatory.

You get in trouble if you don't vote.

It's an idea, anyway.
posted by wakko at 9:43 AM on November 17, 2005


Of course, the real reason the UK was so eager to hang on to the Falklands is that as well as good fishing grounds, it sits nicely on some underexploited, rather extensive oil deposits. Pending some developments in deep sea extraction technology, it's estimated that the Falklands oil fields will be able to produce ~500K barrels per day. With a 3000 person population, that's just over 150 barrels each per day, or around 61K barrels per person, per year. Were the Falklands to be independent, that would put it into UAE/Kuwait/Qatar status for sheer filthy lucre per inhabitant. Of course, neither the UK nor Argentina is likely to allow the Falklands to become independent and retain most of its oil wealth for itself.

I also find it unsurprising that only after Scotland's North Sea oil flows have begun to dwindle has the UK's Westminster government finally become somewhat willing to allow the Scots any measure of devolution and self-government.
posted by meehawl at 9:54 AM on November 17, 2005


Voting is mandatory in a bunch of places (you can add Brazil to Australia, I don't know others off the top of my head). As far as Australia, I know an Australian citizen who was forced to leave the country for repeated offenses of not voting. She now lives in Belgium.
posted by whatzit at 10:42 AM on November 17, 2005


And penguin pie, I loved this post. When I do research on/in small countries, I am always amazed by how close the politicians can get to both regular citizens and important whoo-has.
posted by whatzit at 10:43 AM on November 17, 2005


Has the Liberian election been settled yet?

It looks like it has. No FPP? Maybe I can remedy this after my Africana Studies class!
posted by Eideteker at 11:08 AM on November 17, 2005


Good question, Eideteker. BBC World Service was proclaiming Africa's first female head of state earlier this week, but their most up to date online article suggests otherwise.
I'll look out for your FPP with interest...
posted by penguin pie at 11:23 AM on November 17, 2005


I hope not to disappoint. As true to my style, expect it to be non-NewsFilter. News is boring. The exciting half of political science is the science half!
posted by Eideteker at 11:27 AM on November 17, 2005


When I do research on/in small countries, I am always amazed by how close the politicians can get to both regular citizens and important whoo-has.

While it's generally easier to get close to politicians in smaller countries, the amount of direct representation has much to do with the voting system and the governmental system. In a parliamentary system, the Prime Minister is usually directly elected, and the Cabinet is generally composed of people who must also be elected representatives. And they are usually elected not as pluralities but by hustling for quotas of votes within multi-seat constituencies.

When you couple this with a direct, proportional voting system such as STV, instead of a list-based PR system (which enables parties to propose candidates for national election and so bypass local politics), then you will find that, if you live in the constituency of the outgoing Prime Minister, there is a good chance you might open your door one evening to find them hustling on the doorstep for your vote. Or making a speech at a local shopping centre. It's an enlightening experience.
posted by meehawl at 11:44 AM on November 17, 2005


whatzit: As far as Australia, I know an Australian citizen who was forced to leave the country for repeated offenses of not voting.

Could you elaborate on the specific circumstances? This seems to be the relevant section of the Australian election law, it specifies fines of up to $50 for non-voting. How do you get from there to expulsion? Some kind of 3-strikes-and-you're-out immigration law?
posted by ltl at 12:25 PM on November 17, 2005


I also find it unsurprising that only after Scotland's North Sea oil flows have begun to dwindle has the UK's Westminster government finally become somewhat willing to allow the Scots any measure of devolution and self-government.

Well, there was a referendum on devolution in 1979, but it was lost. Also, trade and oil are reserved to the UK Government, along with other market and financial matters.
posted by athenian at 1:20 PM on November 17, 2005


You know, there's waaaay too much news on Metafilter about the politics of little islands, and not nearly enough about the United States.

Erm. I mean, good post.
posted by goatdog at 3:37 PM on November 17, 2005


there was a referendum on devolution in 1979, but it was lost.

Actually, to be precise, Scotland's 1979 independence referendum was carried with a slim majority voting yes for independence (52/48), but the Westminster government refused to recognise it, saying that the proportion of the electorate that voted in the referendum (64%) was below a threshold for the result to be "acceptable". The accession of the centralising Tories then marginalised Scotland's independence movement for the next 15 years or so.

The 1997 Scottish independence referendum was carried 75/25. The turnout in 1997 was 60%.

Apparently, standards for "acceptability" have declined somewhat since the 1970s.

trade and oil are reserved to the UK Government, along with other market and financial matters.

I'm sure that Canadian, Australian, and New Zealand Tories consoled themselves similarly, once upon a time...
posted by meehawl at 5:00 PM on November 17, 2005


meehawl, your scare quotes around acceptable are unwarranted. The 40%-must-vote-yes condition was set before the vote, thus the low turnout guaranteed its failure. This wasn't some after-the-fact rejection, as you characterize it. The 32% (of the electorate) yes vote clearly fell short of the bar.

Turnout minimums are commonplace with votes of this nature, such as constitutional referenda. One can disagree about whether the actual bar is reasonable, but having a bar is not in and of itself unreasonable.

Also, the 1997 referendum was not for independence, but for home rule. This time, it was a 45% (of the electorate) yes vote, and a supermajority of the voters.

Of course, neither the UK nor Argentina is likely to allow the Falklands to become independent and retain most of its oil wealth for itself.

This applies to both cases: the local authority would optimally receive a percentage of profits from the sale of mined resources, not the entirety of the revenue. Even a state entity would have comparable business expenses such as drilling equipment and engineers. The difficulty of deep-sea oil drilling suggests that expenses would be high.

In the US, the states have limited taxing authority. But the Feds still get most of it.

The Falklands, in any case, could never be independent; without the British military umbrella, Argentina would occupy them again in a heartbeat.
posted by dhartung at 10:56 PM on November 17, 2005


I think that meehawl is misunderestimating the nature of devolution. It's not independence, nor even a step towards independence. It's not dominion status, like in Canada, Aus and NZ. It's asymmetric devolution (like in Spain).

There's a divide between issues that are essentially Scottish, and those that are essentially UK-wide. Local government is at one extreme, foreign policy at the other, but there is a list of which functions fall on which side of the line:

Devolved powers. Reserved powers. (There are similar but different lists for Wales and Northern Ireland.)

Not to say that Scotland couldn't become independent if it wanted to - the UK Govt has said as much on several occasions - but there doesn't seem to be much appetite. As one Scottish Labour MP said, "devolution will kill [the independence movement] stone dead". And it seems to be working.
posted by athenian at 12:33 AM on November 18, 2005


I'm southern Irish, so I have a different perspective on "Home Rule" than many people in the UK. Or former parts of the UK.

One can disagree about whether the actual bar is reasonable, but having a bar is not in and of itself unreasonable.

What you're saying is that *I* say something is unreasonable, it isn't, but that if you say so, then it is. Wonderful.
posted by meehawl at 6:37 AM on November 18, 2005


Meanwhile, back in the Falklands...

There was a surprise highest vote for GP and non-Falkland Islander Richard Davies with 546, beating the runaway favourite for top-poller, Mike Summers, who snagged 477. A resounding defeat for (now ex-) councillor Roger Edwards on the West (91 votes) has also got people talking. I would run through the other results but it won't mean much to you guys and I have a terrible hangover from drinking flat champagne with one of the losers (276 votes) until the wee small hours.

The interesting thing for me about the whole process is that the nature of voting is completely different in a place where:

a. There are no political parties and every candidate stands as an independent.
b. Most voters know the candidates, at least by reputation, or, in many cases having known each other and each others' families all their lives.

The interaction of factors such as popularity, competence and actual politics changes completely: You might find yourself deciding to vote for someone whose politics you dislike, or who you would loathe to sit next to at a dinner party, simply because you know they are intelligent and will turn up to meetings having read the paperwork and understood the issues.

(The prime example: the above-mentioned Mike Summers is Managing Director of a company recently fined £40,000 in court for illegal fishing. It's not the first time he's had such run-ins, but he remains a very popular choice for council because of his ability to speak well in international fora, financial literacy, etc.)
posted by penguin pie at 7:20 AM on November 18, 2005


You might find yourself deciding to vote for someone whose politics you dislike, or who you would loathe to sit next to at a dinner party

Sounds like Athenian democracy. Do you think, with a population so small, would randomly electing officials using a lottery for limited terms work?
posted by meehawl at 7:40 AM on November 18, 2005


Do you think, with a population so small, would randomly electing officials using a lottery for limited terms work?

Absolute chaos would ensue!!

January's council:
Ban Argentine visitors, anyone born in Argentina (accidentally including large proportion of native population, born overseas due to medical emergencies), in fact anyone who looks a bit Argentine, in fact why don't we get rid of all the Chileans too. Economy on verge of collapse as large section of labour force leaves, but traditionalists and "patriots" rejoice.

February's council: Welcome our South American neighbours, drop all immigration controls to solve labour shortages.

March's council: Go into hiding when January's council instigates popular riots over new immigration policy.

April's council: Restore original immigration policy. Slash financial subsidies to the farming community to reduce public spending and create a "level playing field" with Stanley.

May: Ban Argentines etc.

June: See February.

July: This time the riots are swelled by the addition of starving, homeless, farmless farmers following the collapse of the rural economy and traditional sheep farming way of life.

August: Restore immigration controls, farming subsidies.

Etc....
posted by penguin pie at 8:30 AM on November 18, 2005


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