Tuesday, March 4, 2008

A One Party Democracy

Here in the province of Alberta where I live we just finished having an election. The governing party gained a massive majority by winning more than 85% of the seats in the legislature. The reason I refer to a one party democracy is because the same party has formed the government in this province since 1970. Prior to 1970 another party had held power since 1935. So Albertans do not change governments on a very regular basis at all. How does this relate to the ideals of democracy?

First of all I suppose its important to note that elections here are always free and democratic. People choose to vote for the governing party time after time. One thing worth pointing out is that the percentage of the popular vote won by the governing party does not accurately reflect the number of seats gained by the party in the legislature. In this election the governing party with about 50% of the popular vote gained 85% of the seats in the legislature. This is one of the effects of a single - member plurality system. If we had some kind of a system of proportional representation the dominance of the governing party would not be as pronounced.

Secondly I would observe that opposition politicians tend to have a pronounced charisma deficit. This election was made to be won by the opposition. The governing party had recently changed leaders from a popular charismatic leader to someone not as telegenic. The government had irritated a number of important constituencies in the province. Despite this the opposition parties actually lost seats in the legislature. One possibility is that the voters who wanted change did not see either opposition party as a potential government and so chose to accept the promise of change from the traditional governing party.

So, is it possible that Alberta will have a change of government any time in the future? It is true that traditionally Albertans are quite conservative in the sense that they are reluctant to change. Change might be possible if the opposition can find leadership that captures the attention of the electorate. Change might also become possible if the government "loses its touch" and provides the opposition with possible election issues. Still, with Alberta in the midst of an economic boom, the prospect of many more years of rule by the same party remains.

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