Friday, October 24, 2008

Convoluted leadership selection

Electoral laws are increasingly under the spotlight in various efforts to reduce electoral fraud, or alternatively to entrench to political elites. Canada has some of the toughest laws, extending to Elections Canada overseeing party leadership contests. Given outcome, there is a question over how effective strong regulation is, particularly in leadership races.

The Canadian Liberals went into a recent federal election with a leader who was clearly unpopular publicly, but worse, lacked the support of his parliamentary party colleagues. In Canada the party leader is chosen by complex methods across party membership rather than by those they need to work closely with.

In Australia, even given public funding of elections, political parties are considered to be private organisations. For the most part elected members choose their own party members, with little more than normal media scrutiny. The idea of supervising or imposing outside rules is not generally regarded as appropriate.

Bloodletting spills public
With the Canadian Liberals now facing a new round of the leadership selection process perhaps the party should be developing a more pragmatic approach, within the rules laid down but ultimately more effective.

The Liberal partyroom needs to get down a flesh out which candidates will have the ultimate support of colleagues. Sure the bloodletting often spills public, there are tears and recriminations, but the final candidates to go before the wider party have been pre-qualified by their colleagues.

In 2004 the bitter leadership battle Michael Ignatieff and Bob Rae, the strongest choices undermined each other to the degree that the relatively weak St├ęphane Dion was elected as a compromise. I certainly don’t put Dion down in any sense other than he never really became The Leader.

The process I’m suggesting is already underway, to an extent, according to reports. Rae and Ignatieff could probably both command the respect of their elected colleagues, but Rae is the more charismatic of the two. The backroom deal being suggested is a recognition of this, without the obvious tears.

I would hope, when leadership contenders go out to the party branches for support they have also secured support from their colleagues. It is moronic to think you can win a ‘popular vote’, complete with the branch stacking and still lead a team who don’t want you.

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