Tuesday, April 11, 2006

World: That election’s a farce – and that and that and…

At last count, Berlusconi was running scared. And rightly so, too. He had pushed through legislation giving himself immunity from prosecution – as long as he was still Italy’s Prime Minister. But the numbers look bad, and it’s not simple to resume his career as media baron and Italy’s richest man. He has a few corruption charges to face. Yet there are seats in parliament reserved for overseas Italians, and they might help shield him – anecdotally at least, absentee votes tend to favour conservatives. If that fails, he can always go back to his old tricks – only a few opposition MPs need to be bribed for the numbers to fall his way.

Not like the election in Thailand. Thaksin – Thailand’s equivalent of Berlusconi – just won an election because the opposition didn’t run, in protest over corruption and conflicts of interest. That gave Thaksin’s party “Thais Love Thais” (!) a clear run, because candidates are home and hosed unless 80% of their electors specifically vote “none of the above”. Still, constitution crisis remains if any seats remain unfilled, as happened. So Thaksin offered to stand down. But rest assured, he’ll have a comfortable hand on the reins behind the scenes. Ultimately, no change. Again.

Then there's Belorus. Lukashenko got a clear run, simply because he made it so (the election wasn’t “free and fair”). Simple when you know how.

What about the horse-trading in Israel, Japan, and elsewhere? Any whiff of corruption? Certainly deals are done. Life is much simpler when you have a two-party system, isn't it? You have stability, which is good. Yet you don’t have all voices represented, and you have to toe the party line (generally). Which is bad.

But aren't party systems an abasement of the notion of proper representative democracy? Shouldn't democracy consist of a bunch of unaligned representatives thrashing it out until they get consensus? Or at least a majority decision? But what about the minority voices? And won't that take forever to get anywhere? How can you win?

Well you can’t, according to Kenneth Arrow. Arrow’s Theorem. One way of expressing it is that in any group where there is no dictator, it is impossible for an election to express the group's wishes. In a nutshell, it proves that democracy - as we commonly know it - is impossible. Which might explain why we often feel underrepresented. And why we might have felt that the last election we voted in was a bit of a farce.

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