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The Wrong Alternative

by John O'Sullivan

Electoral haruspicy from Down Under

Anglosphere advocates of the alternative-vote system — in which citizens cast votes for both their first- and second-preference candidates, and losing candidates’ votes are redistributed to their voters’ second preferences — must be hoping that no one outside Australia pays attention to the verdict of its August 21 federal election. Namely, the fact that there isn’t one — at least as late as September 1. The conservative Liberal-National Coalition had initially won 44 percent of “primary votes,” as against the Australian Labor party’s 38 percent. When the second-preference votes for defeated candidates (mainly Greens) were redistributed, however, both major parties were in an almost exact “dead heat,” with the Coalition likely to emerge a nose in front after the remaining 2 million votes had been counted. And that translated into a slight majority for the Right, with the balance of power held by one Green and four independents.

Then, eleven days after the election, Labor signed a formal alliance with the Greens that involved ditching several Labor policies and adopting several Green ones. Yet it did no more than bring the parties equal in seats again at 73 each. Unless there is a surprise in the uncounted votes, the four independents will determine not only the party that forms the next Australian government, but also much of its program. They are an odd bunch: one leftish anti-Iraq ex-spook and three conservative rural rebels who broke away from the junior partner in the Coalition, the Nats. The demands of these five are equally heterogeneous, ranging from agricultural protectionism to measures against gambling to a new and undefined “consensus” politics to replace the divisive party system. Most of their “issues” were not major items in the campaign. And three of them are reputedly hostile to the Greens — which could be a problem for Labor.

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