Presidents, Prime Ministers and parties

The discussion of my Queen’s Birthday showed that at least some readers have problems thinking about how an elected presidency would work, what powers the president should have and so on. There are many different models out there, but my idea is that the president would acquire the current powers of the Governor-General (dissolving parliaments, including double dissolutions; resolving disputes between the Houses; and initiating the formation of governments after elections) but with less deference to the wishes of Prime Ministers than in the past. For example, the President could reject the shenanigans with absurdly drawn out election timetables that we saw in 2016, and saw proposed in 2013, and could refuse a snap election called to take advantage of a favorable climate.

Assuming this role, the President’s views on policy issues wouldn’t matter much; rather we would be looking for personal characteristics such independent mindedness and capacity for good judgement in a crisis. A possible side benefit would be that parliamentary elections would be more about policy and less about the personality of the party leaders.

Under the current system, we are called on to vote on a presidential basis, but with no guarantee that the elected leader will see out a term. Even if the rules were tightened to make spills more difficult, we would still have the problem of a successful leader voluntarily retiring mid-term, as Menzies did and as both Hawke and Howard promised to do.

37 thoughts on “Presidents, Prime Ministers and parties

  1. I mean, how could you legislate to systematically exclude the likes of Bolt or Devine from the presidency?

    Yes, all candidates definitely pass an ideological test before they are allowed to be candidates.

    This is the problem with the Left advocacy of a republic. There is a hidden assumption that because a republic is a progressive idea, opposed by conservatives, then ipso facto any and all presidents will be progressives. To which I say, really? It is easy to imagine any number of prominent conservative figures getting elected.

  2. J-D, given that any change to the constitution requires a double majority I would suggest that 3 options, involving 6 outcomes, would be a guaranteed failure. The hard yards should be done prior to going to a referendum and given the history of refendums in Australia a compelling argument for change has to be well established and broadly accepted before going to the ballot box.

  3. I mean, how could you legislate to systematically exclude the likes of Bolt or Devine from the presidency?

    The democratic answer is that we could not and should not. However, to win a presidential election with preferential voting you must secure more than half the votes and that means appealing to the median voter. Neither Bolt nor Devine are nowhere near the national median voter and are never going to be.

    Trump is not a relevant example because the electoral college requires candidates to the appeal to the median voter in battleground states who is a quite different person from the median voter across the whole country. No-one campaigns in California or Texas, or appeals to the median voter in those states because it is assumed that California will vote Democratic and Texas will vote Republican.

    In semipresidential countries where there is both and cited prime minister and an elected president, presidential elections tend to have a moderating influence because the presidential election is national and the median voter rules, but in a parliamentary election you only need to address those districts that are competitive.

  4. rog:

    Because I know how the Australian Constitution works, I am not recommending a referendum with three options. The Australian Constitution doesn’t allow that. I am recommending a referendum that complies with the requirements of the Australian Constitution, because that’s the only legal way the Australian Constitution can be changed. That is the final step of the process I suggested.

    A ballot with three options on the ballot paper (not being a constitutional referendum, because it can’t be) is an intermediate step in the process I suggested, not the final step. With three options on the ballot paper, you don’t have six possible outcomes, you have three (namely, ‘Option 1 wins’, ‘Option 2 wins’, ‘Option 3 wins’).

    I agree that a compelling argument for change should be made before proceeding to a referendum. I never suggested anything to the contrary. The process I described is intended to make room for the compelling argument for change to be made. If it turns out not to be compelling enough, then the referendum stage at the end of the process won’t be reached. I think the referendum should be the end of the process, not the beginning. So do you. So what do you imagine we’re disagreeing about?

  5. Yes but it’s unlikely that a >50% majority can be achieved with 3 options to choose from. You could get 40% for the No and 30% for each of the other 2 which would mean that the No wins with a minority of the vote.

  6. At present the Constitution vests executive power of the commonwealth in the Queen. If there is a change in the monarchy and a King is invested our Constitution could be in strife as it makes no allowance for a King.

  7. Rog the role passes on to the Queen’s heirs and successors. Good job too as the Queen died three weeks after federation. As a constitutional literalist I presume this means all the Kings of Australia were Queens of Australia.

  8. Yes but it’s unlikely that a >50% majority can be achieved with 3 options to choose from. You could get 40% for the No and 30% for each of the other 2 which would mean that the No wins with a minority of the vote.

    If you ran it as a first-past-the-post ballot, yes, but why would you do that rather than either an optional preferential ballot or a compulsory preferential ballot? I didn’t recommend a first-past-the-post ballot, and I wouldn’t.

    If you wanted to get fancy, you could go with approval voting or range voting, but Australians are more familiar with preferential voting and so shouldn’t have too much difficulty understanding either the procedure of voting or the interpretation of the result.

    It’s possible that there is a majority that would prefer the idea of sticking with the present monarchical model to switching to a republic with a President chosen by parliamentarians, and a differently constituted majority that would prefer the idea of sticking with the present monarchical model to switching to a republic with President chosen by the voters. If so, a preferential ballot would disclose this. That would be a disappointment to me personally, but it would justify not changing. I don’t know that it’s true, however, Maybe it is and maybe it isn’t. If it is true, I think it would be better to know that it’s true.

  9. Let’s not get fancy.

    The proposal known as “Range Voting” has gotten some attention as a result of William Poundstone’s book, Gaming the Vote. While a useful tool for rating movies and products on the Internet, where the “voters” are predominantly disinterested judges who are not highly invested in the outcome, it has severe problems in high-stakes elections where the voters genuinely care about the outcome. Prof. Nicolaus Tideman, one of the top election method experts in the world, wrote in his recent book, Collective Decisions and Voting, that Range Voting is one of six “unsupportable” methods that “have defects that are so serious as to disqualify them from consideration.” While Tideman was largely focused on the susceptibility to strategic manipulation, there are other more fundamental problems with the underlying assumptions of Range Voting that are addressed in this brief essay.

    Apart from its theoretical defects, the experience with range voting in the small number of organisations that have ever used it, is that it rapidly defaults to first past the post because it is in the interests of both candidates and voters to vote for a single candidate, Approval voting is even less satisfactory and it is probably a nontrivial fact that it sonly governmental use was in the former Soviet Union.

  10. Alan: “Texas votes Republican”. This old truism is being tested in the November senatorial election. Beto O’Rourke, an exceptionally attractive Democrat, has a fighting chance (no more) against the exceptionally unattractive Republican Ted Cruz. Ann Richards made Governor. There’s hope for the Lone Star yet.

  11. James, you may care to look up truism in the dictionary before you use it again.

    Ann Richards was elected in 1990.

    That was the last occasion that Texas elected a Democratic governor or federal senator. Texas has not voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since 1994. The Texas senate has not had a Democratic majority since 1997. The Texas house of representatives has not had a democratic majority since 1994. The senate majority is 21/10 and the house majority is 95/55.

    Pointing to elections over a generation ago and expressing hope in Beto O’Rourke is not quite enough to declare the statement that Texas votes Republican a truism in the face of overwhelming evidence that it does.

    I hope Beto wins too, but Beto and Ann are not enough to erase a generation of Republican dominance. Indeed so central to the Republican national majority is Texas that if the state ever does flip, as California did in 1992, the Republicans will not have a viable path to the presidency.

  12. Alan:
    Let’s see. My microprinted OED (1928 with Supplement) defines “truism” thus:
    “a self-evident truth, especially one of slight importance; a statement so obviously true as not to require discussion”. My obviously ironical use was therefore quite correct. I can’t afford the current OED, and old meanings are still available, so I may have missed a possible new meaning: “2. a fallacy (a mis-attribution by self-important amateur pedants now in common use).”
    It is a curiously common for grammar and usage peeves to shoot from the hip without checking, relying on the faulty instructions absorbed in youth during their partial education. See Geoffrey Pullum’s many posts at Language Log.

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