On Saturday evening while all about me were losing their heads about the 2016 Australian federal election, I was happily enjoying the afterglow of voting for the first time in seven years.
That was the second Lisbon referendum, held in Ireland in October 2009 and a do-over essentially, as the Irish public apparently made the wrong choice in June 2008.
Such an occasion – the overturning of a referendum result by a sitting government – should have caused me to question whether it was worth doing my duty as a citizen to vote. In Ireland, voting is not mandatory. Turnout has noticeably been decreasing. There is a sense of fatalism among Irish voters – and often I have had difficulty explaining the requirement that Australians take part in elections or be fined.
And yet, over the last seven years as an Australian resident living and working here, I have felt stateless, powerless, in not being able to take part in elections – and effectively banned from exercising my vote in Ireland unless I travel back. Overseas Irish citizens have no voting rights, with the exception of members of the defence forces, the police and diplomatic service.
But in 16 February I became a citizen of Australia. Over the course of June I was increasingly excited about taking part in the federal election. I read up on the candidates for the Kooyong voting district, visited the websites of the major parties and independents, refreshed the #ausvotes hashtag on Twitter to see what the latest news was.
Despite feeling like death from a persistent head cold, I went out on Saturday morning to vote with my wife. She posted a series of messages on my Facebook page giving live commentary on how long I took to place my vote – much to the amusement of friends – as I painstakingly pored through the overlarge Senate voting paper, folding and refolding to assign numeric values below the line across the diverse range of candidates.
I have studied Patrick Alexander’s cartoon about Dennis the Election Koala too much over the years.
Afterwards we had breakfast and I felt pretty good about my vote, despite the nasty head cold and my previous experience teaching me elections can be bittersweet affairs at the best of times.
That evening, with no decision in sight, panic set in among media commentators and armchair pundits around the country. With no clear party winner, and Senate seats gained by dubious sorts calling for a Royal Commission into a monotheistic religion, a general disillusionment with the election was revealed.
A failure of democracy, some said. Further proof of a universal political malaise in liberal democracies, just like the fallout from Brexit fiasco in the UK and the unlikely rise of dog-whistling blowhard Donald Trump in the USA.
During my week of research I found small parties resorting to crowdfunding to stand in the election. I found websites helpfully grouping candidates and their policies per region to clarify exactly who was standing and what they believed. Instead of the politicial fatalism I grew up with, I noticed how galvanised friends became at the news that Pauline Hanson has regained a seat in the Senate.
Democracy has not failed. I think we are waking up to how fragile and important it is. And I was proud to cast my vote in this election.
Image by Takver via Flickr