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← 2010May 9, 20162022 →
Turnout81.5% 7.2%
 
CandidateRodrigo DuterteMar RoxasGrace Poe
PartyPDP-LabanLiberalIndependent
Running mateAlan Peter CayetanoLeni RobredoFrancis Escudero
Popular vote16,601,9979,978,1759,100,991
Percentage39.0%23.5%21.4%

 
CandidateJejomar BinayMiriam Defensor Santiago
PartyUNAPRP
Running mateGregorio HonasanBongbong Marcos
Popular vote5,416,1401,455,532
Percentage12.7%3.4%

Map showing the official results taken from provincial and city certificates of canvass. The inset shows Metro Manila.


The Philippine presidential and vice presidential elections of 2016 was held on Monday, May 9, 2016, as part of the 2016 general election. This was the 16th presidential election in the Philippines since 1935 and the sixth sextennial presidential election since 1986.

Incumbent president Benigno Aquino III was ineligible for re-election, pursuant to the 1987 Philippine Constitution. Therefore, this election determined the 16th President. The position of president and vice president are elected separately, thus the two winning candidates could come from different political parties.

Rodrigo Duterte led the preliminary count with 38.5% of the vote.[2] Congress had met in late May to canvass the results, issued an official result with Rodrigo Duterte and Leni Robredo emerging as the winners of the presidential and vice presidential races, respectively. They were proclaimed on May 30, in the House of Representatives.

Electoral system[edit]

Main article: Philippine presidential election

According to the Constitution of the Philippines, the election is held every six years after 1992, on the second Monday of May. The incumbent president is term limited. The incumbent vice president may run for two consecutive terms. The plurality voting system is used to determine the winner: the candidate with the highest number of votes, whether or not one has a majority, wins the presidency. The vice presidential election is a separate election, is held on the same rules, and voters may split their ticket. Both winners will serve six-year terms commencing on the noon of June 30, 2016 and ending on the same day six years later.[3]

Background[edit]

See also: Philippine presidential election, 2010 and Philippine Senate election, 2013

Senator Benigno Aquino III of the Liberal Party, who ran on an anti-corruption platform, won the 2010 election with 42.08% of the votes defeating Joseph Estrada, a former president who was deposed in 2001 after scandals of massive corruption, and several others. Meanwhile, Estrada's running mate, Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay of the Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban), defeated Aquino's running mate, Senator Mar Roxas of the Liberal Party and several others, in the vice presidential election.[4] Roxas eventually accused Binay of electoral fraud in the Presidential Electoral Tribunal, citing that some of his votes were recorded as null votes.[5]

Both Binay and Roxas were subsequently appointed by Aquino to his cabinet, with Binay heading the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council,[6] and Roxas first being given the Transportation and Communications portfolio, then finally named as Secretary of the Interior and Local Government, after the ban of appointing losing candidates expired a year after Aquino took office on June 30, 2010.[7] As of 2014, the tribunal had still not yet acted upon the preliminary motions of both parties and on Binay's counter-protest; the suit is expected to still not have been resolved by the time President Aquino's term expires.[8]

For the midterm 2013 Senate election, Aquino and Roxas formed the Team PNoy coalition;[9] Estrada's PMP and Binay's PDP-Laban forged an electoral alliance, the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA).[10] Team PNoy won nine Senate seats against UNA's three.[11]

In March 2014, PDP-Laban withdrew from UNA, a week after Binay resigned as party chairman, due "to differences with its leaders". Party president Aquilino Pimentel III had a public quarrel with Binay over Juan Miguel Zubiri's inclusion in UNA's 2013 senatorial slate, whom Pimentel had accused of cheating in the 2007 Senate election.[12]

Several other stalwarts of UNA, such as senators Juan Ponce Enrile and Jinggoy Estrada, who had manifested his intention to run as Binay's running mate, and others such as Senator Bong Revilla of Lakas-CMD, who is planning to run for president, are currently detained due to their involvement in the pork barrel scam.[13][14] No personalities linked with the Liberal Party but also involved in the scam were investigated; these actions by the government, which it says is part of its anti-corruption drive, have been cited by UNA as "political persecution".[15]

In July 2014, Renato Bondal, a defeated mayoral candidate in the 2013 Makati mayoral election, filed plunder cases against Makati mayor Jejomar Binay, Jr. and his father, the vice president, to the Ombudsman. By the next month, a subcommittee of the Blue Ribbon Committee composed solely of Pimentel, along with Nacionalista Party members Alan Peter Cayetano and Antonio Trillanes IV, began Senate hearings against Binay on his alleged corruption while serving as mayor of Makati, beginning with the alleged overpriced annex building of the Makati City Hall.[16] It was followed by hearings on alleged corruption on deals supplying Makati senior citizens with birthday cakes,[17] an agricultural estate in Rosario, Batangas that Binay allegedly owns,[18] the allegedly overpriced Makati Science High School,[19] and the relocation of Makati residents to Calauan, Laguna to a community without basic necessities.[20]

Binay had consistently denied any wrongdoing,[21] and from owning the Rosario estate,[22] but had never appeared at the Senate.[23] UNA Secretary General JV Bautista branded the investigations as part of the "Operation Plan Stop Nognog", insinuating on Binay's dark skin, with Roxas, Cayetano and Trillanes allegedly behind it to prevent Binay from becoming president. He accused billionaire businessman Salvador Zamora as its financier.[24] In May 2015, the Court of Appeals ordered the 242 bank accounts belonging to Binay to be frozen for six months, when it granted the petition of the Anti-Money Laundering Council and of the Ombudsman. Binay's camp had alleged certain people from the Liberal Party to be behind the freeze order,[25] a charge President Aquino, in a Bombo Radyo interview, himself denied.[26]

By late May 2015, the subcommittee report recommending the filing of a plunder (corruption worth more than 50 million pesos) complaint against Binay was signed by all three subcommittee members and Grace Poe.[27] By early June, ten senators had already signed the subcommittee report, making it official and available to be debated upon in the Senate floor.[28] A month later, Binay sued Cayetano, Trillanes and several others for 200 million pesos in damages at the Makati Regional Trial Court for "well-organized and orchestrated effort" to damage his reputation and worsen his chances of becoming president.[29]

Meanwhile, Aquino held several meetings with Roxas, Poe and Francis Escudero on who should be the standard bearer of the Liberal Party. While none of them had announced their preferences at that time, Aquino is expected to announce his preferred candidate after his final State of the Nation Address late in July. Congressional heads Franklin Drilon and Feliciano Belmonte, Jr. denied that Liberal Party members had been dissatisfied with Aquino's indecision, saying that the party is still united.[30]

On early July, Binay launched his party, the United Nationalist Alliance.[31] Later that month, Aquino did endorse Roxas for president, which the latter accepted.[32] In August, Rodrigo Duterte, the Davao City mayor who had been a subject of a strong online following urging him to run, announced his intention to retire from politics after his mayoral term ends in 2016.[33] Poe announced her intention to seek the presidency by mid-September,[34] followed by Escudero's announcing that he'll be her running mate a day later.[35] Several days later, Cayetano announced his vice presidential candidacy, preferring to be Duterte's running mate.

On October 3. Trillanes formally announced his vice presidential campaign as an independent, supporting Poe's presidential campaign.[36] Days later, Leni Robredo, the representative from Camarines Sur and widow of former Secretary of the Interior and Local GovernmentJesse Robredo who died in a plane crash in 2012, accepted the offer of the Liberal Party to be Roxas' running mate.[37] Also on that day, Senator Bongbong Marcos announced his candidacy as vice president.[38] A week later, after being nominated by UNA, Senator Gregorio Honasan announced that he would be Binay's running mate.[39] A day later, on the launch of her new book, Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago announced her presidential candidacy;[40] a couple of days later, she announced that Marcos would be her running mate.[41]

At the final day of the filing of candidacies, Duterte did not show up; instead, the PDP-Laban nominated Martin Diño, chairman of the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption.[42] At the end of the day, more than a hundred people registered as presidential candidates, after a 5-day long filing period. These include current OFW Family Club representative Roy Señeres running under the Partido ng Manggagawa at Magsasaka, former representative from Iloilo Augusto Syjuco, who is running as an independent, and Engineer Juanita Mendoza Trocenio under the Partido Bagong Maharlika (PBM). For the vice presidency, nineteen people manifested their intention to run, including former assemblyman from Ifugao Zosimo Jesus Paredes II, who is also running under the Partido Bagong Maharlika.

AC Nielsen Philippines showed on its monitoring report between Jan 1 and Nov 30 that presidential candidate Binay spent 595 million pesos for campaign advertisements on television (before the campaign period). Vice presidentiable Cayetano led the spenders in the race, spending 398 million pesos worth of TV advertisements.[43] Binay, denied the claim.[44] An article from The Manila Times reported also that the administration's bet, Mar Roxas, led the list of the biggest ad spenders in the country with P774 million in television advertisement expenses from January to December, in a survey also conducted by AC Nielsen.[45]

Candidates[edit]

Main article: List of candidates in the Philippine presidential election, 2016

An initial list of 8 presidential candidates were uploaded on the certified candidates list in the commission's database on January 21, 2016.[46] But only trimmed down to 5, due to declaration by the commission en banc of Dante Valencia as a nuisance candidate and the withdrawal of certificates of candidacies of Romel Mendoza and Roy Señeres.[47][48][49]

This is the final and certified list of candidates for the elections to be included in the ballots:[50][51]Jejomar Binay,[52]Miriam Defensor Santiago,[53]Rodrigo Duterte,[54][55]Grace Poe,[56]Mar Roxas.[57][58]

Although Señeres withdrew his candidacy and later died, his name is still included on the printed ballots.

[edit]

Under the Constitution of the Philippines, the President and Vice President are elected separately.

Notes:

[edit]

Jejomar Binay[edit]

Main article: Jejomar Binay presidential campaign, 2016

When questioned by the media at the Coconut Palace in September 2011, Vice President Jejomar Binay (PDP-Laban) confirmed his plans of running as president.[59]

By May 2014, Binay began his search for a running mate. As his potential running mate Senator Jinggoy Estrada in jail due to his implication in the PDAF scam,[60] Binay's offers were declined by JV Ejercito,[61]Manny Villar (via wife Cynthia Villar),[62]Vilma Santos (via husband Ralph Recto),[63]Mar Roxas,[64]Grace Poe,[65]Rodrigo Duterte[66] and Joseph Estrada.[67] Binay's daughter Abigail, also the Representative from Makati, said that Binay would accept anyone as his running mate except for Antonio Trillanes, and that she prefers Grace Poe, however Sen. Bongbong Marcos was the most preferred by UNA officials to be his running mate.[68] On June 12, Independence Day, speech in Iloilo, President Aquino said that he could only offer Binay the conduct of a clean and honest election, but not an outright endorsement.[69]

On June 22, Binay resigned from the Aquino cabinet, both as presidential adviser on Overseas Filipino Workers' concerns and as chairman of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council, but did not say why.[70] Two days later, Binay addressed the public from his Coconut Palace offices, branding the current administration as "manhid at palpak" (insensitive and bumbling), but did not mention Aquino by name.[71] His running mate was confirmed to be Gregorio Honasan.

Miriam Defensor Santiago[edit]

Main article: Miriam Defensor Santiago presidential campaign, 2016

In a press conference on July 2, 2014, Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago (People's Reform Party) revealed she was suffering from stage 4 lung cancer and she might run as president for the third time if it goes into remission. Called "the Iron Lady of Asia" and a recipient of the Ramon Magsaysay Award, she was the widely expected winner of the 1992 election, but lost after an inexplicably unscheduled power outage during the counting of votes. She then ran for a Senate seat in 1995 and won in a landslide victory. She has become one of the most popular senators since then, owing to her broad media visibility as well as to the high number of laws and bills she authored, a record that stands up to this day. She once again ran for president in 1998, but lost, citing black propaganda against her during the campaign.[72]

By November 2014, Santiago, in a tweet, announced that "In the 2016 presidential elections, when I am rid of my lung cancer, I intend to claim the presidency I won in 1992." In a letter to the Senate, Santiago said that more than 90% of the cancer cells have regressed.[73]

Santiago announced her candidacy for president in the launch of her book Stupid is Forever on October 13, 2015. She is currently running under the People's Reform Party, the same party in which she ran under during her 1992 and 1998 presidential campaigns.[40] Days later, Santiago announced that Senator Bongbong Marcos would be her vice presidential running mate, a decision that largely earned criticism from progressives as Bongbong is the scion of the former dictator Ferdinand Marcos. Her platform stands on the effective and efficient upholding and implementation of national and state-recognized international laws, enhancement of the agriculture industry with a focus on irrigation and farm-to-market roads, enhancing all seaports and airports in the country, creating at least one major government project in all provinces and all regions in the Philippines, building and highlighting the country's diplomatic affairs in the international level while skyrocketing the country's defense capabilities, and eradicating graft and corruption, which she believes to be the cause of poverty and inefficiency in the country.[41] Presidential candidate Rodrigo Duterte gave in an interview in November 2015 his comments on his fellow candidates' qualities, stating that "[i]f you want extraordinary competence and integrity, vote for Miriam."[74]

Rodrigo Duterte[edit]

Main article: Rodrigo Duterte presidential campaign, 2016

Early in 2015, Duterte made hints to the media of his intent to run for the presidency come 2016, with a widely praised promise of abolishing Congress altogether in favor of a Parliament should he win.[75][76][77] Earlier, in February 2014, Duterte was reportedly enjoying the support of several netizens lauding his performance as mayor of Davao City, especially in maintaining peace and order in the city, but he was quick to shrug off calls for him to run for President, saying he was not qualified for a higher public office.[78] A year later, Duterte said in a Baguio federalism forum that he'll only run for president "if (it is) to save the republic." Duterte cited the need of about 10 to 15 billion pesos for a campaign war chest as what was keeping him from running.[79] Days later, however, Duterte "re-entered" PDP-Laban; he maintained he never left the party, and only had to stand under a local party banner (Hugpong) in the 2013 local election in order to ensure his victory.[80] PDP-Laban president Aquilino Pimentel III later said that Duterte was among his party's options for a presidential candidate for 2016, noting that the party's position on federalism coincides with Duterte's advocacy.[81] A few days after reports came out saying incumbent Vice-President Jejomar Binay (a presidential aspirant) was eyeing Duterte as his possible running mate, Duterte issued a statement saying he was not interested in running for a national post.[82]

In September 2014, Duterte already declined presidential aspirant and incumbent senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago's offer to be her running mate, saying that instead of picking him as the senator's running mate, she could ask former defense secretary Gilberto Teodoro, Jr. instead.[83] However, in October 2015, Santiago chose Bongbong Marcos as her running mate.[84]

Later, during the June 21, 2015 airing of his weekly program in a local channel (Gikan Sa Masa, Para Sa Masa), Duterte stated that he was considering suggestions from his friends and supporters to run for President. He also added that he will stop expressing non-interest in starting a presidential campaign.[85]

On September 7, 2015, in a press conference held at Davao City, Duterte officially declared he will not be running for President in 2016 and apologized to all of his supporters on the decision. He additionally stated that he might retire from politics after his term as mayor of Davao City ends in 2016 and his daughter runs for the office. Other factors of his possible retirement include age, health concerns and his family's objections.[86] Mixed reactions erupted in social media hours after the declaration and several supporters still continued to petition online, urging the mayor to revert his decision.[87]

On September 26, 2015, a large number of supporters gathered at the Quirino Grandstand in Rizal Park, Manila to urge Duterte to officially run for the presidency in 2016.[88][89] Despite being an undeclared candidate, Pulse Asia Research Director Ana Tabunda still considered Duterte "a serious contender" as he was already ranked 4th in a presidential survey done by Pulse Asia from late August to early September, as well as in a Social Weather Stations survey.[90] Duterte's long-time political rival and critic, former House SpeakerProspero Nograles, also expressed his support for Duterte if ever the latter decided to run for the presidency.[91] On September 29, incumbent Senator Alan Peter Cayetano declared his intention to run for the 2016 Vice-Presidential post in a press event held in Davao City and considered Duterte his first choice as running mate for the presidential post; this eventually led to a meeting between the two parties.[92] A day after meeting with Cayetano, Duterte met with another incumbent senator, Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos, Jr., who also went to Davao City to personally talk to Duterte. Marcos was reportedly considering running for the Vice-Presidential post as well; Marcos had not yet made any formal proclamation at that time. As in the Cayetano meeting, Duterte still declared that he was not running for president.[93]

On October 13, 2015, in a press conference held at a local hotel in Davao City, Duterte finalized his decision not to run for the presidency, with daughter Sara's objection being pointed out as one of the main contributors.[94]

On October 15, 2015, Duterte, through a representative, filed his candidacy for Mayor of Davao City at the local elections office.[95] A day later, Duterte's daughter Sara, posted on her Instagram account a photo of her candidacy as mayor of Davao City, while hinting that her father would seek a higher post and withdraw his mayoral re-election bid.[96] However, it was received that it was not received by the commission in Davao City.[97] Duterte’s possibility of substitution until December 10 was opened after Martin Diño, father of celebrity Liza Diño and chairman of the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption and former barangay captain of Brgy. San Antonio, Quezon City, filed his candidacy for president on the last minute. Diño is a member of PDP-Laban, the same party advocating the federalism system where Duterte belongs.[98] Diño clarified that there was a "clerical error" on his submitted candidacy (running for Pasay City mayor, instead of president). On their general meeting held in Pasay City on October 26, members of PDP-Laban had expressed their support to Diño in his presidential bid.[99] On October 21, Duterte told CNN Philippines' News.PH interview that there was still a chance he would change his mind. The decision, however, would have to be made by the PDP-Laban.[100]

On October 27, PDP-Laban confirmed that Duterte will substitute as the party's presidential bet if Diño withdraws or is disqualified by the Commission of Elections.[101] Two days later, Diño withdrew his presidential bid and named Duterte as his substitute because of a possibility that Diño might be declared as a nuisance candidate by the commission.[102]

On November 21 in a gathering held in his alma mater San Beda College, Duterte formally announced his presidential bid and also finally accepted Alan Peter Cayetano's offer to be his running mate.[103] Duterte said he is disappointed over the decision made by the Senate Electoral Tribunal regarding Grace Poe's citizenship as well as the current administration's handling of the ‘laglag-bala’ issue.[104] Duterte further stated that he will file his candidacy immediately after he reached out to his party.[105] However, the legality of Duterte's substitution for Diño was questioned by some electoral lawyers because of an error made in Diño's certificate of candidacy that made him a Pasay mayoral bet despite being a resident of Quezon City.

Duterte topped all other candidates, including former front-runner Grace Poe, in a survey published November 25, 2015 and held by Pulse Asia.[106] Poe said that the survey was 'inconclusive' and 'not reflective' and claimed it was made by Duterte's camp.[107] The day after, Duterte filed his certificate of candidacy at the commission main office in Manila and withdrew his bid for Mayor of Davao City (for which he will be substituted to by his daughter, Sara).[108]

Grace Poe[edit]

Main article: Grace Poe presidential campaign, 2016

Grace Poe's surprising first-place finish in the 2013 Senate election as an independent made her a likely contender for the presidency but she dismissed any plans of running in April 2014, saying she was not considering "anything higher at this point" and even declaring that Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago is the most qualified to run as president [109]

On President Aquino's state visit to Canada in May 2015, the president disclosed that he had met with Poe prior to the trip, although he didn't say what the meeting was for.[110] A couple of days later, Poe confirmed that she did meet with Aquino. Poe said that "We discussed his intention to choose a candidate who, first and foremost, has the trust of the nation, and, secondly, has the potential to win in the election, in order to sustain the reforms especially against corruption and the pro-poor programs of the government." Poe expects more meetings with Aquino in June.[111]

On June 2, UNA interim president Toby Tiangco, responding to calls for Jejomar Binay to "come clean" on his corruption allegations, said in a press conference that Poe is not qualified to run either for president or vice president after citing her certificate of candidacy in the 2013 Senate election, which stated that she is a resident for six years and six months; adding three years for the 2016 election, nine years and six months or six months short mandated by the constitution.[112] Two days later, before a Senate session, Poe said that she wrote "six years and six months" because it was in April 2006 that her home in the United States was sold. Poe, who had been a resident of the United States for 13 years, returned to the Philippines after her father Fernando Poe, Jr., a presidential candidate in the 2004 elections, died in December 2004. She said that she has proof that she has been living in the Philippines since February 2005. She said, that despite being a congressman for Navotas, Tiangco lives elsewhere, and that her decision on whether to run in 2016 is "50%" sure. Poe also observed that the attacks from UNA only began after she signed the Senate Blue Ribbon subcommittee report recommending plunder and graft cases against Binay.[113]

On September 16, at a gathering at the University of the Philippines Diliman in Quezon City, Poe announced her intention to seek the presidency, saying that "No one person or group has a monopoly on a straight path advocacy" of President Aquino, a shot against the Aquino party's nominee Roxas, who is advocating for continuation of the "Daang Matuwid" (straight path) advocacy of Aquino; while also hitting the Administration programs. This resulted in the Palace questioning their Daang Matuwid advocacy contrary to their speeches.[114]

On December 1, the commission's second division had formally disqualified Poe from running as President in the 2016 elections and cancelled her filed Certificate of Candidacy for not failing to meet with citizenship and residency requirements. The division voted 3-0 in favor of the petition filed by Attorney Estrella Elamparo to disqualify Poe. The decision stated that Poe had failed to comply with the 10-year residency requirement, mandatory for a presidential candidate.[115]

On December 23, 2015, the commission en banc disqualified Poe from running as president in the 2016 elections for failing to meet the 10-year residency requirement.[116][117] Poe said she would appeal the disqualification to the Supreme Court. On December 28, 2015 the Supreme Court issued two temporary restraining orders against the decision of the commission en banc.[118]

On March 8, 2016, voting 9–6, the Supreme Court voted to affirm Poe's natural-born status and 10-year residency.[119][120] On April 9, 2016, the Supreme Court declared their ruling as final and executory.[121]

Mar Roxas[edit]

Main article: Mar Roxas presidential campaign, 2016

Senate President Franklin Drilon, when describing the Liberal Party's plans for Interior Secretary Mar Roxas' in 2016, told the media in January 2013 that "so far as the LP is concerned, [and] in so far as I am concerned, we believe that he is best qualified for 2016."[122] Two years later, Drilon told DZIQ AM radio that Roxas had expressed his interest internally within the party.[123] Several Liberal Party stalwarts had by then expressed that Roxas should declare his intentions at that time,[124] with some such as Budget Secretary Florencio Abad suggesting that Roxas may slide down to run for the vice presidency again.[125]

Aquino had a series of meetings between Roxas, Grace Poe and Francis Escudero from prior to Aquino's state visit to Canada in May, until days before his final State of the Nation Address in July, including a July dinner with all three of them at the Bahay Pangarap, Aquino's official residence at the Malacañang Palace complex. While Roxas was seen as Aquino's choice to succeed him, another question was who would be Roxas' running mate, as Poe had earlier said that she'd rather run with Escudero as her running mate.[126]

On July 31, 2015, at an event dubbed as "A Gathering of Friends", Roxas formally accepted the Liberal Party's nomination after he was officially endorsed by President Benigno Aquino III in the presence of their political allies at the Club Filipino, San Juan, where Roxas had announced his decision to withdraw from the 2010 presidential election and give way to Aquino's presidential bid. Aquino also announced his candidacy there on September 9, 2009.[32] On the same day, Roxas formally launched his campaign website.

Map of the results of the 2010 vice presidential election.
Makati City Hall (taller building to the right) as viewed from the Pasig River; the allegedly overpriced annex is the building to the left.
  1. ^ abCayetano, Marcos and Trillanes are all members of the Nacionalista Party, but failed to get that party's nomination; instead, all of them are running as independents.
  2. ^Trillanes is supporting Poe's presidential campaign, although he is not her running mate.

Election 2013 Essays: As the federal election campaign draws to a close, The Conversation asked eminent thinkers to reflect on the state of the nation and the challenges Australia – and whichever party wins government – faces in the future. Today, Marian Sawer writes on what this election campaign reveals about the state of two of Australia’s key democratic processes: the electoral roll and campaign finance.


Given that Australian voters will do their democratic duty by heading to the polls this Saturday, now seems a perfect time to pause and ask: what does the 2013 federal election tell us about the health of Australian democracy?

With politicians increasingly prone to meddle with laws surrounding the electoral roll and the power of money in our political campaigns, the pulse of Australia’s democracy may not be as strong as we had once thought.

Electoral roll

At the beginning of the 20th century there was no doubt about Australia’s democratic leadership. In 1903, through a massive nation-wide effort, Australia enrolled more of its population to vote in the forthcoming election than any country had done before. Commonwealth electoral officials estimated that 96% of the adult population, including both women and men, were now on the roll.

The cause was further advanced in 1911 when enrolment was made compulsory, largely at the urging of the Chief Electoral Officer. Australia pioneered the creation of professional electoral administrators with a professional interest in the achievement of an electoral roll that was comprehensive as well as accurate.

How does Australia compare in 2013? Since the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) ceased door-knocking to register voters (in 1999) we have experienced a “shrinking roll”. At its worst, up to 1.5 million eligible voters were missing from the roll. Reliance on data matching meant the AEC had become very good at removing voters who were no longer at their registered address, but not nearly as good at getting them back onto the roll. There were anachronistic requirements for voters to sign and return paper enrolment forms.

Unlike other democracies, the AEC could not use the data at its disposal simply to enrol eligible voters at the right address. This situation was exacerbated by the amendment of the Electoral Act in 2006 to close the rolls on the day the writs were issued. Many Australians were only prompted to enrol or re-enrol by the announcement of an election and were now disenfranchised. We had fallen well behind other democracies who allowed enrolment up to the day of the election (Canada) or the day before (New Zealand).

Pressure mounted to repair this democratic deficit. One of the top demands of Kevin Rudd’s 2020 Summit in 2008 - and of the Youth Summit that preceded it - was for direct enrolment. But it is difficult to gain bipartisan agreement for any action concerning the roll. Conservative parties tend to argue that making it easier to get onto the roll opens up the possibility of electoral fraud. However, making it more difficult has a disproportionate effect on young people and disadvantaged sections of the community.

Online activist group GetUp! took matters into its own hands with two successful High Court actions in 2010. One overturned the early close of the roll, with a majority finding this was an unreasonable restriction of the universal franchise. The other decision upheld the validity of electronic signatures and hence allowed online enrolment.

Of even greater long-term significance, the Commonwealth Electoral Act was finally amended in 2012 to allow the Electoral Commissioner to update details or directly enrol new voters after informing them of his intent.

The combination of direct enrolment, restoration of the week to enrol after the issuing of writs and the possibility of enrolling online contributed to record enrolment for the 2013 election. In the week after election was called, over 162,000 people were added to the roll and nearly 490,000 updated their enrolment. Over 85% of these enrolments and updates were done online. The shrinking roll was finally being reversed, although the percentage of eligible voters enrolled had still not returned to the 1903 level.

Campaign finance

Unfortunately, all these voters restored to the roll were then exposed to an election campaign unlikely to boost their faith in the democratic process.

One of the reasons for this is the huge increase in the role of money in Australian election campaigns since the removal of limits on political expenditure in the early 1980s. There has also been a growing arms race involving television advertising and other new campaign weapons.

A majority of European countries, including the UK, do not allow paid political advertising. They uphold the principle of a level playing field and allocate broadcast time in accordance with a fairness criterion rather than the power of the purse. The problems with allowing such advertising include not only the damage to the equality principle, but also the increased dependence of political parties on wealthy donors.

Public funding was intended to lessen this dependence, but in Australia the major parties simply added corporate funding on top. In the election year 2010-11 the Liberal Party alone received income of A$105 million, 80% of which was from corporations or wealthy individuals. Dependence on large donors not only brings suspicion of undue influence but pays for the negative advertising that serves to bring the whole of democratic politics into disrepute.

In 2013, the major parties reached an agreement behind closed doors that would at least improve the disclosure of political donations. There was a public outcry when it was revealed that substantial “administrative” funding for parties was part of the package to compensate them for the alleged costs of disclosure. The bill was dropped but not before adding to the distrust of political parties.

As this example shows, the loss of trust in parties and politicians is not only about access purchased by corporate donors or unions. It is also about the misuse of public money for party purposes. The spike in government advertising in election years, such as this year’s full page asylum seeker advertisements, is one blatant example.

There is also the use of parliamentary allowances for electioneering purposes, which has become the norm. Even training in the use of party databases has been paid for under the Parliamentary Entitlements Act. It gives an unfair advantage to incumbents, as well as diverting public resources for party benefit.

Political parties now also launch their campaigns in the last couple of weeks of a campaign because of the convention that they can charge electioneering to the public purse until the actual launch. This means people are voting at pre-poll voting centres before political parties have revealed their official campaign policies.

In 1903, money had a much smaller role and there was no scope for billionaires like Clive Palmer. The Labor Party’s Manifesto proudly promoted the new Electoral Act:

Elaborate precautions exist to prevent wealthy men practically purchasing seats: the expenditure of a senatorial candidate is limited to £250 and of a candidate for the other House to £100.

Full reports of the campaign speeches of party leaders appeared in the newspapers, covering the major issues of free trade and protection, the Conciliation and Arbitration Bill, White Australia and even nationalisation of monopolies. Three parties were treated as serious contenders, unlike the leadership debates of 2013, which have involved only two leaders.

In many ways Australia has lost its vanguard status as a democracy. Our electoral administration continues to be the envy of the world, with its completely professional and non-partisan approach. Unfortunately, our electoral legislation is in the hands of political leaders who again and again place short-term party interests over the longer-term interests of electoral democracy.

It is a sad day when decisions to ensure voting rights have to come from the High Court.


This is the second article in our Election 2013 Essays series. Stay tuned for the other instalments in the lead-up to Saturday’s election.

Part one:Australia and the world

Part three:It’s the economy, stupid

Part four:What is government for?

Part five:The philosophy of voting

Part six:Australia for the long term

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