On Winning And Losing An Election

From the Dean

A regular article written by Phillip Jensen in his role as Dean of Sydney at St Andrew's Cathedral.

Originally Published:
13th September 2013

Tagged: politics

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The Election is over and we can all sigh a great communal sigh of relief. Australians don’t love elections. We even have to be compelled to vote. We will never know, but it has to be wondered, how many of us would vote at all, if voting was voluntary. There is a good chance that the Australian Apathetic Party would win, if it could be bothered to try. Compulsory voting keeps extremists out of power, though it encourages middle ground parties to use rhetorical flourishes to differentiate themselves from each other. More importantly compulsory voting means that whoever wins has a real mandate for government for they secured more than 50% of the votes. 

Not everybody will be glad that the election is finished. Deeply political personalities on the losing side of an election immediately start work to bring down the government – even before it is sworn in or has done anything either good or bad. Some people’s life is fixated on power – on gaining it and keeping it. Their venom is directed towards their enemies, for to them politics is a passion, a profession not a pastime, winning and losing is life and death itself. They gloat in victory and skulk in defeat. While they think they are serving society, it’s ultimately not the nation’s interests that matter to them but their own. Such people exist on both sides of politics, their hearts, rankled by defeat, plot their revenge or, buoyed by victory, look to capitalise on their nemesis’ downfall.

Politicians are not by definition evil; but power does corrupt. Politics is not evil; but it is about power. Politicians use whatever means they can to gain power, keep it and use it – even occasionally for the common good. Politicians have bent the constitution out of shape to gain power. The Senate no longer really represents the states and now the House of Representatives is no longer about representatives of local electorates. The presidential style of campaigning caused by modern mass media has meant the silencing of local candidates in favour of party leaders. In one TV broadcast the commentator claimed that in the previous election people in Julia Gillard’s electorate had not voted for her, but for Kevin Rudd! Psychologically this may be true but in fact it was her name on their ballot paper not his. They were the only people in Australia who could vote for her.

Another group who are sad the election is finished is the media. Elections are their moment of maximum power, as wannabe politicians (aka political journalists) influence the outcome by the pretence of dispassionate reporting. Our media adores the campaign for there are no ‘slow news days’ during an election. The stories are easy to find and simple to write with personalities eager to be interviewed and the drama of conflict simplifying the issues. Until polling day we have the unresolved dramatic tension of “the next exciting episode”. Once the election finishes the dramatic tension is resolved, the story loses interest and the media loses its audience. The last few votes that decide the last seats, hardly matter to anybody but the pundits. So the journalists return to their usual fare of creating conflict to concoct controversy and so sell a story. 

However, most Australians love the end of the election. We do not particularly love or trust our politicians. We return them to power because we feel safer with the devils we know. Deeply suspicious of messianic figures, Australians are more likely to change government by voting one party ‘out’ than by ever voting another ‘in’.

Yet, we must not take our democratic process for granted. Democracy is humanity’s best political response to the universality of our own sinfulness. It allows for the smooth, peaceful transition of power from one ruler to the next. The last thing we would want is a civil war. That’s the worst of all wars. There is no better sign of civilised government than “The Leader of the Opposition” - not imprisoned, banished or assassinated but given a pay increase, a particular pride of place and a special title. This lies at the heart of stable government.

Democracy doesn’t create the stability of government but it certainly facilitates it. Our stability comes from our culture; our community’s commitment to ideals and realities beyond the question of power. Nobody doubts the Egyptian government was democratically elected but the ensuing year’s government followed by a coup, violent demonstrations and military rule has demonstrated that democracy alone doesn’t create justice, peace and quiet.

Government is about justice, peace and quiet. God has appointed rulers for this purpose, (Romans 13, 1 Timothy 2). Nowhere in scripture is it said that we should elect our rulers. But we are commanded to pray for governments (1 Timothy 2) and submit to them (Romans 13, 1 Peter 2) if we are to have the blessing of stable society. The rampant individualism of western culture does not like the word ‘submit’, but that is what is required for any social grouping to continue in peace and quiet. Whether I vote for Labor or Liberal or one of the minor parties, once the election is over and the result declared the Christian is to submit to the government that God has appointed and we have elected. President Putin so pointedly put it to the American President and people that nobody is exceptional, “when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.”

In any sport, we play to win but the passion to win must not override the game we are playing. The umpire’s decision should be final, be it fair, accurate or distorted by his short-sightedness. Similarly, we must be more committed to good government and stable society than political wins. And that commitment means accepting the results and moving from the divisive nature of election mode to the uniting mode of working together for the common good, under the leadership of whomever God has appointed over us. We must avoid the politician’s gloat and skulk, as we govern and are governed by God’s appointed leader.