Grasp the nettle

Alan Bradley alanb at
Sat Nov 6 07:57:40 MST 1999

From: Carlos Eduardo Rebello
> The parliamentary systemn, in Brazil, was rejected as very prone to
> political manipulations that would allow unpopular governments a very
> extended margin of survival, provided such governments would keep
> pleasing and/or bribing the MPs _ expecially when the Parliament itself
> was chosen by that most wretched systemn of majority, 1st.- past-the-post
> voting that prevails in most anglophone countries (in Australia too?) and
> the example of the more than 10 years of undisputed rule by Margareth
> Thatcher in England were repeated brought to the debate.

At the Federal level, Australia has a bi-cameral system.  The lower house
(House of Representatives) is elected by a preferential voting system,
which at least has the advantage of undermining the argument that the left
shouldn't "split the vote" by running candidates against the Labor Party.
The upper house (Senate) is elected by proportional representation, and
it's quite common for the government not to have a majority in this house.
(Governments are formed in the lower house.)  It's a telling symptom of the
weakness of the Australian left that we don't have any Senators.

The party system is fairly strong, so it's rare for splits to form in the
major parties.  Generally, there's only three parties in the House of Reps,
perhaps with a couple of independents, with a couple of smaller parties
also appearing in the Senate.

> In itself, of course, a bonapartist democracy is no substitute for the
> Marxist programme, but a bonapartist surge can act as a catalyst from
> making the political debate get beyond a tight straitjecked imposed by an
> entrenched political oligarchy... This is something, I think, that the
> Aus. Marxists shoul perhaps think about more.

As far as I can tell, the question of presidentialism/Bonapartism was
introduced into the debate from Britain, and not raised in Australia.

The bourgeois proposal was for a figurehead President, although one with
the capacity to dissolve parliament and call fresh elections, in certain
loosely defined circumstances.  That is, it was one with the (rarely used)
powers of the current Governor-General.  This figurehead would be chosen by
a two-thirds majority of parliament, that is, by a deal between the Prime
Minister and the Leader of the (loyal) Opposition.

The bulk of the working class, and some bourgeois figures, rejected this,
wanting to be able to vote for all constitutional positions, and quite
correctly so.  This could, potentially, give rise to a president who
chooses to step outside the conventional figurehead role, but this is
actually quite unlikely.

It is far more likely, IMHO, that a popular upsurge would result in the
emergence of radical forces within the Parliament, although then they would
be faced with all the normal obstacles to a radical democratic programme,
not least of which would be a hostile President, looking for an excuse to
dismiss Parliament - but this is old news, and brings us back to the
sacking of the Whitlam government in 1975, and the Lang government in New
South Wales in the early '30s.

I really can't see a radical President being able to achieve much, without
a radical Parliament.  The legitimacy just isn't there in any likely
bourgeois constitution in Australia.  Of course, a reactionary President
could well be able to do anything they liked....

Alan Bradley
alanb at

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