In the 1970s in the Philippines President Marcos imposed several referenda to justify his continuation of Martial Law, first introduced in September 1972. There was enormous intimidation, particularly from the military, to support a ‘yes’ vote for the 1973 referendum, despite Marcos’ track record as a cruel and avaricious dictator. Some may say I may be drawing a long bow to compare the Marcos dictatorship with the current Australian political system but there are similarities.
I recall the days in 1973 in a small town called Catarman in the southern Philippines when our little Christian community was encouraging people to consider a free vote for the referendum and not be intimidated by government and military. We encouraged people to vote ‘yes’, ‘no’ or even to boycott the vote entirely to exercise their democracy. One Sunday morning when I was preaching in the church on the topic, two jeeploads of soldiers, armed with armalite weapons, drew up outside and stormed into the church, surrounding the congregation on all sides. It was a terrifying moment but fortunately was intended as pure intimidation and ended without incident. In the end, not surprisingly, Marcos’ referendum received a majority of ‘yes’ votes and he stayed in power to wreak more havoc.
I’ve been thinking of those days since Kevin Rudd announced an election for September 7th. I think it’s become clear for many commentators that both sides of government have lost the high moral ground because of their appalling asylum seeker policy, which has become crueller by the day. Particularly impressive in recent days has been the commentary coming from Eureka Street (http://eurekastreet.com.au/). An article by Walter Hamilton calls ‘shameful’ the dumping of asylum seekers on Nauru and compares it with ‘the way Australia was used by Great Britain in the 18th century to dispose of a British problem.’ (http://www.eurekastreet.com.au/article.aspx?aeid=36902 ) An exaggeration? I don’t think so.
I’m finding it difficult to consider voting either Labor or Liberal in the coming election. I want to vote informally to register my disgust but what will that achieve? Policy on asylum seekers by both sides of government amounts to immoral and cruel treatment and renders members of these parties ineligible for a vote in my mind. Should I vote Green or Independent, these votes will hardly translate into effective policy.
But what would my meagre informal vote really achieve? In the 2010 Australian Federal election there was an informal vote of only 5.6%, hardly a resounding statement, considering that some of these votes would have been accidental rather than intentional. 25-year-old Akram Azimi, Young Australian of the Year, who fled Afghanistan with his family in 1999, appreciates the value of the vote. ‘I grew up in a country’ he says ‘where democracy was a foreign concept, where a vote was a thing almost mythologised because it was so far removed from our immediate reality.’ How could anyone disagree with this man’s enthusiasm for the vote? I wish I shared his passion.
Perhaps I should just vote formally for the candidate of my choice and also write a rude message on the voting form – something like: Scrap current asylum seeker policy – start again with compassion!
What do you think?