You An Anarchist? You Voting?

Refusing to vote is a tactic. Like any tactic, it must be evaluated in light of strategic goals. In a state where the house of representatives rules supreme, but is elected by proportional voting, what goals could strategic voting achieve?

Under First-Past-The-Post, with the exception of a handful of 'swing' electorates, voting was purely a case of going through the motions. If the electorate a citizen lived in was a 'safe' one, the only chance of having any influence on who would represent their electorate in parliament was to join the local branch of whichever party regularly won it, and participate in candidate selection. In this environment, if a citizens political views did not align with one of the two major parties, their choices were to give a protest vote to a minor party, or protest by not voting at all. Except in extremely rare cases like Social Credit leader Bruce Beetham winning Rangitikei, or Jim Anderton retaining Sydenham after splitting from Labour, there was no way one's vote could reduce the representation of the two major parties in favour of smaller parties.

The Mixed-Member-Proportional system significantly changes the game. In the 2011 election, a quarter to a third of registered voters cast no vote. However, because seats in parliament are distributed according to the proportion of votes cast, National was able to form a majority government with the help of a pair of cynical opportunists, despite receiving votes from well under half of registered voters, possibly as little as a third. The result has been a Godzilla government, smashing through so many anti-democratic law changes under urgency that even the liberal NZ Law Society felt obliged to criticise them, in a recent report to the United Nations.

The point being made here is not specifically anti-National. The situation would be no better if it was Labour effectively governing alone with support from a couple of mercenary MPs, as was made clear by former Labour PM Helen Clark's recent 'nothing to see here' comments in support of domestic spying by the GCSB, SIS and NZ Police. The real threat is, because the informal constitutional arrangements of the New Zealand state place no effective limit on the powers of parliament, any party that can control a majority of seats has, in the words of John Pilger, "total dictatorial power for the next three years."

The Lange/Douglas Labour regime was similar to Key's National regime in that they were able to push through profoundly anti-social policies virtually unopposed. By contrast, Clark's Labour government had to enact at least some minor progressive policies, and blunt the edge of their ongoing ideological support for corporate globalization, to keep the support of various coalition partners, as well as their 'supply and confidence' agreement with the Greens. Labour under David Shearer's leadership may be just as friendly to anti-democratic globalization as it was under Clark, but if it leads the next government with only a third of the seats in parliament, it will have to convince other parties to support the legislation it wants to pass, and probably give them significant concessions in exchange.

Perhaps the best situation we could hope for under MMP is one where the unofficial grand coalition of Labour and National held less then 50% of the seats in parliament between them, and a range of other parties divvied up the balance. Why? Because regardless of which coalition of parties officially formed "the government", every policy would be subject to criticism and debate from multiple perspectives, and those supporting it would really have to convince a majority of its value.

So, what does all this have to do with anarchists voting? Under MMP, voting is a strategic tool which if used by enough anti-authoritarian dissidents, could hamstring the centralization of massive parliamentary power. As evidenced by the difference between Clark's government and Key's, a parliament where smaller numbers of seats are distributed among many players, at least some of them cage-rattling activists, is one in which it is significantly harder to pass legislation privatizing public goods, enabling mass surveillance, banning certain forms of protest etc.

The results from 2011 suggest that regardless of the size of the no-vote, whichever party can claw together a majority of MPs will claim to have a mandate. Rather than swallowing the liberal fairy tale that casting a vote is an expression of confidence in the representative "democracy" of the NZ state, dissidents could instead look upon their votes as a quick and easy form of direct action against parliamentary supremacy. Just one of the many, many actions by which - to paraphrase Chomsky - we expand the space in which we practice our own forms of politics, and of democracy.


Commenting has now closed on this article.

This is interesting, next year will be my first chance to vote and I've been seriously questioning my earlier decision not to. If I do vote it will be for the greens, their policies at by far the most libertarian and of the parties with actual influence the most left wing.

The challenge is to do something beyond the vote. How can we represent ourselves? and exercise a direct democracy?
Today you vote... tomorrow you are a candidate... and suddenly you become a politician which always will be in the different side of the barricades of the class war.
The last thing an anarchist would do is betray its class by legitimating the electoral system by placing a vote. Don't matter who you vote on, the result is the defeat of your class and a losses for you.

Null your vote and don't sustain parasites!

Thanks for making the effort to comment. Next time you could even read the article, and not just the title :)

Thanks for your article. I'm having a little trouble reconciling voting with my own concience. Giving carte blanche to a lawyer or stranger seems to me a very dangerous thing to do - strategically or morally - particularly when one looks at what is being perpetrated under the guise of our consent.

Your article correctly points out there is no constitutional limitation to the power of the regime that ones vote would sanction. Voting (essentially the transferring of ones will, thought, autonomy and power) to an outside power should be done with extreme caution. Power of attorney that sacrifices self determination should only be passed to the most trustworthy of family or friends if at all.

I would, however, consider voting for a representative who shared my interests or at least took an oath swearing allegiance to myself or maybe even the people who inhabit this land.

Instead of someone re-presenting me I think I'm quite capable of presenting myself should anyone genuinely want my input. And by input I don't mean 'submission'. Remember even the most tyrannical dictatorship cannot hold power without, at least, the tacit support of the population - shown by it's submission.

A vote in this context only serves to make me feel at best like a consumer, a spectator making a choice instead of an individual producer participating actively in policy formation or agenda creation. At worst, like Thoreau said, playing "a game of checkers or backgammon with a slight moral twinge to it".

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