Russell Marshall’s Column

Russell Marshall
Russell Marshall

Why we need to change our political system

By Russell Marshall

The years since the middle of the 20th century have seen easily the most rapid change in the history of human life on our planet.

Much change has been to our human advantage – advances in human knowledge, communication, transport, medicine come to mind.

But the advances have not been evenly shared around the world’s population. Not all countries have benefited, nor have communities and citizens within countries. Among the more developed countries, New Zealand included, poverty gaps have continued to grow. As we learn more about global warming, there are beginning to be serious questions about how human life can survive on this planet at all.

Time to act urgently

It is surely time to face the future with some sense of urgency.

In the course of the evolution of human society, improvements have constantly been made in how things are, how we communicate, how we do business etc.

The spectacular exception to this constant evolution is the way we govern ourselves. Western societies for several centuries have largely governed after a majority of people support a particular, usually moderately ideological,  party voted in by the public.

The United Kingdom and those countries ‘descended’ from the British have generally believed that our Westminster style of government is the world leader. The Americans took a somewhat different route in the 1770s and are even more convinced of the superiority and sanctity of their governance arrangements. As each day of their congressional impasse passes, the absurdity of that conviction, and arguably of that system, grows.

The various other western systems are not standing up well either. Modern media compounds the problem. Profit and big business driven media continues to play a damaging role, and modern media, especially blogging, all too often encourages a degree of nastiness and misrepresentation        

It is now a matter of urgency that we find ways to make serious political change, change that will facilitate wiser approaches to domestic and international issues.

The same problem for non-Western states

Non western countries face the same problems. After the turbulent and often provocative presidency of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad years, Iran recently chose a more moderate Hassan Rouhani.

There was an immediate and dramatic shift in Iran’s face to the rest of the world, a constructive, co-operative approach which is still unfolding. Hassan Rouhani’s election came about not least because other strong candidates decided a moderate president was more likely if they withdrew in his Rouhani’s favour.

Some wise men stood down to ensure that another wise man became president.

Elsewhere Lee Kwan Yew, father of modern Singapore, recently marked his 90th birthday. I disagree with some of his policies (eg punishment by cane) and views (such as the Viet Nam war) but there is no doubt that Singapore has thrived since its independence, and that it has done so by a sustained common sense of purpose.

Singapore is basically a one party state, albeit with a small but growing opposition. It is still relatively egalitarian and has good deal of economic success, though geography is also a major factor. Above all Singapore has had an impressive unity of purpose.

Unity of purpose needed

To react wisely to today’s realities and issues, the world needs a much greater unity of purpose. We can’t change the world but we look at ourselves as New Zealanders.

I have come to the view that we can only aim for that by a radical rethink about to our political system. Sadly, probably only incumbent politicians could initiate what would be a serious national self examination.

Could the wider public get on the case? Perhaps by initiating public, serious and ongoing conversations between some of our smartest and wisest people, followed by locally and nationally facilitated conversation about the thoughts and proposals the wise have put up for public debate and education.

The latest serious information on climate change tell us that the future of human life on earth the planet is in jeopardy, that at the present rate of increase in global warming the world in 2100 will be in a much worse state and that unchecked, human life’s days on this planet are numbered.