Non-American Dopers, tell me about politics in your country

Having grown up in America with American news sources, I’m not very well informed about the political situation in other countries. Wikipedia has all this data, but it’s colored by the attempt to be all-encompassing and ultra-neutral.

I want to hear your take on it. What are the major parties in your country, what are their positions, whom do you vote for? Is the political climate like America’s (massive cultural clash, red vs. blue) or is it just a simple discussion of policy matters? Which side are the wankers and which side are the poofs?

We jsut finished our election here in Canada - started it just after the Republican convention in the U.S., and finished it before the third presidential debate. We like to do it in a bit less than the two years it takes down south. :slight_smile:

Several threads on the issues you raise, if you care to look through them:

Canada: It’s begining to look like an election

The Canadian Election is Boring. Here’s how to spice it up.

The Race is on! Canadians go to the polls October 14

Canadian Election Results

I’d explain the Israeli political situation to you, but I don’t have all month. Besides, by the time I finish, it will have changed again.

Here in Australia, we vote only for the ruling party - not the leader (or “prime minister”).

Party leaders (at least for the major parties) are voted in by the sitting members of that party.

What are your parties? Also, same question to the person from Israel.

In Australia, the two major parties (that hold almost all the seats in both lower and upper house) are the Australian Labor Party (center-left) and the oddly named Liberal Party of Australia, who are actually conservative.

The current ruling party (at federal level) is the Australian Labor Party.

Things are in incredible flux here right now, with our President just having been ousted. There are signs of an impending split of the (vastly) majority African National Congress party, which should be a great thing for the country. The ANC (in alliance with the Communist Party and trade unions) has such an overwhelming majority for historic reasons, but I don’t think it’s a healthy thing. Current split looks to be between the populists/leftists and the plutocrats/centrists, with the latter being against ANC leader Jacob Zuma, who is under ongoing investigation for corruption.

Politics here is … complicated. Wiki gives an OK overview, but there’s a lot of business vs unions stuff, and a lot of racial/tribal stuff as well, especially in the Western Cape province (Black vs Coloured & White) and Kwazulu-Natal province (Zulu vs everyone else). I was a leftist stalwart during the struggle years, but post-democracy, while my personal politics have veered much more left of even the SA Communist party (I’m an Anarchist), my voting has been strictly Democratic Alliance, the mostly White/Coloured party composed of a few relics of the pre-democracy government and disaffected progressive anti-apartheid elements with a more centrist bent. Not that I agree with them much, politically, but the country needs a strong opposition party and they were the best candidates (less corruption, and leadership whose integrity I generally respect - such as the world’s best mayor.

They’re politicians. The ANC are the wankers, currently (loooots of corruption, but they run the country OK), the Freedom Front are the poofs (white party with the last holdovers from apartheid).

I’m an American expat living between the Arabian (Persian) Gulf and Central Europe. In the Gulf there really are no politics in the Western sense… the royal families run each country, nobody pays any taxes and for the most part they are benevolent dictatorships. Of course some are better than others. People in the UAE and Qatar are much more free than in Saudi Arabia for example.

In the Czech Republic, they never seem to be able to form a government and so nothing ever happens. :wink:

New Zealander (although not currently living there)

Unicameral parliamentary democracy.

Elect parties not individuals and each party selects their leader. Said leader can be ousted from within.

All cabinet positions are held by elected representatives.

Mixed member proportional method of election. MMP at wiki This can sometimes mean that there are more than the 120 member minimum members of the house (currently there are 121 I think)

Main parties: Labour (Centre-left - probably much harder left in US terms). They currently hold 50 seats of which 31 are electorate based and 19 are list seats. And National (Centre-right - probably centre left in US terms). They currently hold 48 seats of which 31 are electorate based and 17 are list seats. They are the majority parties but they generally need to form a coalation government with one or more of the following smaller parties.

Greens: Currently 6 seats. All of which are list seats. Much further left than labour. Generally supportive of Labour policies although also critical of them

NZ First: Currently 7 seats. All of which are list seats. Probably a spent force in the upcoming election. Their campaigning seemed to rely heavily on nationalist sentiment and mistrust of immigrants. Populist but rapidly declining (a good thing imo). They will ally with anyone to keep relevant.

Progressive: Currently a single seat. Electorate seat held by their party leader who is immensely popular in his electorate. Party exists as the result of the collapse of a left coalition that broke from Labour as Labour turned rightwards. The Greens also came from this coalition. He will probably keep his own seat and they may add one or two list seats in the coming election.

United Future: Currently 2 seats, one held by their party leader (ex-Labour) as an electorate seat and the other as a list seat. Centrist but frighteningly conservative on social issues. Expected to drop to a single seat in the election. Claim not to be a Christian party but tend to be far too much so for most New Zealanders.

ACT: Currently 2 seats. One electorate and one list. Supporters of voodoo economics (called Rogernomics in NZ due to it’s chief proponent there). Had a sharp drop in support in 2005.

Maori Party: Currently 4 seats. All electorate. NZ has special seats in parliament which may only be voted elected by people of Maori descent. People eligible for this must choose between registering as a general voter or a Maori voter. They do a pretty good job of standing up for indigenous rights. I personally expect them to swing with Labour following the election. Mostly because National have a poor record of support for indigenous rights.

I’ve been out of the country too long to vote this year. My vote would depend a lot on my location. The Greens would have my party vote (everyone gets two votes) and if I were in a non-safe seat I would support Labour (as the lesser of two evils). If it were safe for either National or Labour I would go Green again.

My own politics (like one of the posters above) are anarchist. But I do find myself as a matter of pragmatism having to support what passes for the left in NZ politics if only because the alternatives are worse.

Points to note (that may be of interest to US dopers): There are several ways to commit political suicide in NZ. One is to suggest dismantling UHC. Another is to suggest doing away with the nationwide nuclear-free policy (which basically banned nuclear armed and powered ship - primarily American - from our waters). That policy has put us on the out with the US since it was put in place in the 80s but remains one of our most politically sacred ideas.

I should probably add that NZ is one of the very few countries without a written constitution (the others being the UK and Israel). Although there is a lot of constitutional law in effect and there is a Constitution Act, a Bill of Rights Act, The Treaty of Waitangi (signed between the Crown and indigenous tribes and generally considered the founding document of the nation), the Statute of Westminster Adoption Act (the Queen is head of state) and various other documents that serve.

Interestingly enough I want to point out that NZ is the only country in the world where all the highest offices have been held by women at any one time (Head of State, Governor General, Prime Minister, Speaker of the House and Chief Justice)

Interestingly, The ALP (Australian Labour Party) was actually in government in Federal, and every state & territory government for a while this year, making the Brisbane Lord Mayor (Campbell Newman) the highest “ranked” elected liberal leader in Australia. This changed after the Western Australian election in early August.

I really wouldn’t say that there is a big culture clash like America seems to have, everyone in Australia is required to vote, so most people don’t really have any party affiliation meaning there are a lot of swing voters. One news article i read after the last election estimated the Liberal party faithful to be about 30% of the voting population.

There’s three main parties in the UK.

The Conservatives are centre-right. They dominated the 1980’s under Thatcher and helped smash the power of the unions in the UK, freeing us from the yoke of rampant socialism.

Labour, unelectable in the 1980’s (not least in part to bizarre policies like wanting to disarm Britain’s nuclear deterrant at a time when the USSR had a bajillion warheads pointing at us), soon worked out that they had to reorganize and reinvent themselves to be ever elected again. In the mid-1990’s New Labour came on the scene, moving further to the right, so we really have another centre-right party in Labour.

The third party is the Liberal Democrats, the product of the merger of two other political parties. They’re more socially libertarian than the other parties (the only party to come out and explicitly condemn Nazi-style ID cards in the UK, for instance). They’re generally seen as unelectable, though and have never formed a government.

Also, the UK’s a parliamentary democracy, so parties are elected to power by the electorate, not prime ministers.

The two biggies are

  1. Labour: centre-left wing and incumbent government - Tony Blair’s party and traditional representative of the working classes and trade unions. In the 70s and 80s would’ve looked extremely socialist to american eyes (high taxes, funded by the trade unions, keen on nationalising industries), shifted to a more centrist position under Tony Blair in an effort to appeal to the growing middle classes (and renamed ‘New Labour’ as a result), but still with a ‘socialist’ ethic. Traditional ally of the US Democrats, but more left wing. Hence Tony Blair and Bill Clinton are firm friends.
  2. Conservatives (aka ‘Tories’) - right wing ‘toffs’ party, traditional representatives of the ruling elite, party of Margaret Thatcher and Winston Churchill, were all dominant in the 80s when Maggie dragged Britain out of decline with hard hitting policies that emphasised capitalism over socialism. Fell into the wilderness when people got fed up with the ‘me me me’ approach, resulting in New Labour’s landslide victories in the later 90s and early noughties. Murmurs that they might come back into power soon as the populace tends to get fed up of parties that stay in power too long. Have a young leader - David Cameroon - who comes across as a bit ‘Tony Blair-Lite’. Traditional pals of the US Republicans.

Then there’s the Liberal Democrats who hold about 15-20% of the vote and used to hold the centre ground, but have shiffted left as New Labour have stolen their centre territory.

As a middle class socially minded professional who works in media, I vote Labour or Liberal.

I don’t ‘think’ there’s such a massive divide as there appears to be in US politics. Sure, there’ll always be sections of the working classes who’ll always vote Labour, and fox hunting land-owning types will always vote Tory, but then there’s a huge shifting middle class who’ll change their votes on the wind. And by the way, we find your colours confusing, as in UK politics, red means left (Labour. And red is, internationally, the colour of socialism) and blue is right (conservatives).

I should add, however, that even the Tories are not as right as US Republicans. Even Tories wouldn’t use religoin in their arguments, abortion is not an issue and they didn’t oppose Civil Partnerships for gay couples. So we’re generally way left of the US.

Denmark. Parliamentary democracy. Queen instead of a president. Two blocks in the parliament. The left wing and the right. Both to the left of the US Democratic party and pretty much absolutely no mention of religion anywhere. Left wing is social democrat, socialist and communist. The right wing is pretty much social democrat too. Not conservative in the US sense. Currently and for the last 6-7 years, the right wing has been in power. Nothing in the cards seems to rock this. The major fault lines are The Welfare State, The Welfare State, The Welfare State and to a lesser extend crime, the housing bubble / financial crisis, Hells Angles – immigrant group crime war, the Muhammed cartoon crisis, climate change, immigration policies, EU and international military involvement in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.

I’m seeing something of a common thread there - even most of our right of centre parties are left of anything much in the US. Since moving to the US I’ve often commented that the Democrats are too far to the right to be elected in NZ and I suspect the same is true for many western democracies

Sweden: Parliamentary democracy. Two big blocks, both to the left of the Democrats.

The left block consists of
[li]Socialdemokraterna - social democrats, the biggest player in Swedish politics, was in power for decades[/li][li]Vänsterpartiet - leftists, openly called themselves Communists until 1990[/li][li]Miljöpartiet - greens, made it into parliament for the first time in 1988[/li][/ul]
The right block consists of
[li]Moderaterna - the biggest rightist party and probably the Swedish mainstream party that’s closest to mainstream American politics[/li][li]Folkpartiet - ostensibly liberals in the classic sense, their recent actions leave that in doubt[/li][li]Centerpartiet - originally an agricultural worker’s party and a partner of Socialdemokraterna[/li][li]Kristdemokraterna - Christian democrats, but the religion thing still isn’t very loud[/li][/ul]
We have a bunch of tiny parties as well, such as Sverigedemokraterna (an opportunist populist nationalist party), Feministiskt Initiativ (feminists) and the interesting (in the sense that Phineas Gage was an interesting case) Piratpartiet. Its main, and in fact only, issue was the abolition of copyright law. It said that it would ally itself with the biggest party and support it in everything, provided it in turn supported the abolition of copyright. In other words, the 34918 people who voted for Piratpartiet not only wanted to abolish copyright, not only thought it was the most important issue, but thought it was more important than all the other issues put together. Mind-boggling, but there you go.

Last election was in 2006. A right-block coalition won parliamentary majority and therefore got to form a cabinet. We primarily vote for parties, not people, although we can note on the voting slip (no machines here) if there is a particular candidate we don’t want to get our vote even though we’re voting for his party.

Who gets to be in the cabinet is a major issue. The right block consists of four relatively small parties, so they pretty much have to share the seats in the cabinet, but Socialdemokraterna are big enough that they’ve managed to get the cabinet to themselves for ages, when they’ve been in power. For this election, Miljöpartiet demanded a seat or they would not support Socialdemokraterna in the parliament, which won them my vote (a minister from another party during a left-block-dominated parliament would mark the end of an era and have wide-ranging, long-lasting effects on Swedish politics).

The big issues this election were jobs and taxes, basically. Everyone wants more of the former and less of the latter. The right block managed to establish itself as the new worker’s party of Sweden, which probably won the election for them.

I sometimes see Americans saying that they’d rather have a proportional system, and while I’m all in favour of that, it doesn’t turn out as good as it sounds. I’d love for politicians to stick by their actual positions so that sometimes two parties are allied and sometimes they’re opposed, but in practice it always turns into two big blocks.

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is composed of Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland, all of which have (and always have had) separate social, cultural and arguably national identities. The parliamentary government of the UK sits in Westminster, London. Parliament is sovereign, power having devolved from the monarchy. (As in many other countries, the roles of Head of State - Monarch - and Head of Government - Prime Minister - are separate). There are two Houses of Parliament: the Lords and the Commons.

The Commons is an elected legislative body; the Lords is a non-elected reviewing/scrutinising body. The Lords no longer have the power to reject a bill utterly, merely to amend it. Usually however, these amendments are taken very seriously and sufficently strong oppostion in the Lords may well signal the end of a particular bill. In extreme cases, the government may employ the Parliament Act, which gives them the authority to force the bill into law over the objections of the Lords.

Elections to the Commons are run on a First Past The Post system. The UK is divided into 646 constituencies, each of which returns one Member of Parliament (MP). If one party wins a majority of these constituencies, it forms the government, with the party leader becoming Prime Minister. The PM then appoints a Cabinet - Secretaries of State, or Ministers, with responsibility for various policy areas: Defence, Foreign Affairs, Justice etc. There is no separation of powers: members of this executive body MUST be members of Parliament. Normally they are MPs - should the PM wish to appoint an unelected Cabinet Member, that person must first be elevated to the House of Lords. There is no fixed election cycle - elections must be held at least every 5 years, but the precise timing is at the sole discretion of the PM. Most governments like to go for at least 4 years (unless they become very unpopular, or lose their majority); elections are almost never called in summer or in winter as the electorate will either be out of the country or reluctant to travel to a polling station; electoral campaigns last either 3 or 4 weeks. In practice, therefore, skilled politics-watchers can generally pinpoint the date of an election pretty accurately. The next election in the UK must be held by May 2010.

(Should an MP die or otherwise vacate the position, a by-election is held in that constituency. These are generally held to be referenda on the government of the day, and as such can attract a lot of media attention.)

It is generally held that the power of Parliament relative to the Cabinet has declined. This is due to the development of the whip system, whereby MPs are turned into either government loyalists with career prospects, or principled outsiders with no influence or power. Nevertheless, the occasional rebellion by government MPs can derail the legislative program and even bring down governments.

Due to the use of FPTP, British politics is largely the province of two main parties, with one clear third option and a number of regional parties. From the top:

Since 1997, Britain’s governing party. Traditionally the party of the working class and the unions, critics argue that since achieving power it has drifted to the right, becoming more business-friendly and less focused on levelling the playing field. Nevertheless, it has presided over major investment in public services, most notably the NHS. Having been in power for over a decade, Labour is losing popularity and can probably be expected to lose power in the next election.
Gordon Brown is leader of the Labour Party and Prime Minister, having previously been Chancellor of the Exchequer (i/c Treasury and thus the economy) since 1997. His career as PM has not lacked incident: having (eventually) succeeded his ally/rival Tony Blair when the latter’s popularity finally waned, he was initially welcomed by an electorate already fed up with Labour. However, following a frankly cack-handed piece of political posturing in which he threatened to call a snap election only to back down when push came to shove, his popularity rapidly hit the skids. The election crisis was followed by the collapse of British bank Northern Rock in November last year; this in turn was followed by the abolishment of the 10% tax band, a move which cost working-class families dearly. As both of these could be traced to Brown’s actions as Chancellor, and as his response as PM was less than sure-footed, Labour’s popularity continued in free-fall.

However, events move on. The current financial crisis has seen Brown demonstrate hitherto unsuspected degrees of leadership, insight and decisiveness. His plan to recapitalise (and part-nationalise) British banks has won international approval and imitation. His political persona as a man of no style but great substance has finally become an asset, and although still behind in the polls, Labour is closing the gap. The government’s response to the ongoing recession will be crucial in determining Labour’s electoral future.

Conservatives (aka Tories):
The party of the right, the party of business and once upon a time, the natural party of government. When Labour won in 1997, they won a landslide with an almost unprecedented parliamentary majority. Tony Blair can claim part of the credit for this, as he worked hard to reform the party during the early 90s. However, much of the credit goes to the Tories themselves: in 18 years of government, most of it controversial, they had succeeded in utterly alienating all but the core of their core voters. As even they would later admit, the tag “The Nasty Party” had more than a ring of truth. In the aftermath of this rout, successive Tory bigiwgs sought the poisoned chalice of leadership: those who won found themselves fighting their own party. As only the most loyal of Tory voters had bothered to vote in 1997, only the most rightwing of Tory MPs remained. Consequently, even leaders who grasped the need to move towards the centre were prevented from doing so. After many years of ineffective oppostion, however, a rejig of the party constitution finally allowed the election of a moderniser: David Cameron.

Oxford-educated, old Etonian (read, exceptionally upper-class) Cameron is a former PR man, and knows full well just how big an image problem the Tories had. Under his leadership they have embraced green, toned down the rhetoric on"dogwhistle" issues such as immigration and tax-cuts, and upped the rhetoric on social justice. This charm offensive, coupled with Brown’s poor performance, has seen the Tories soar to long-term high in the opinion polls. Critics argue that while the rhetoric has changed, the policies haven’t - Cameron is much more about image than substance. In this respect, he has been labelled the “Heir to Blair”. Following the electorate’s apparent reappraisal of Brown, it remains to be seen if Cameron can get away without outlining any serious policies for much longer. Certainly his response to the recession has been very limited, proposing only a 6-month sales tax holiday for very small businesses.

Liberal Democrats:
You’re probably wondering: if you’ve got one party of the left, and one party of the right, what do you need a third party for? For a long time, nobody knew. Historically, the Liberals were the main rivals to the Tories. Following the rise of Labour in the early 20th Century, however, they went into a sharp decline, barely clinging on to a handful of seats. They too benefited from anti-Tory sentiment in 1997, however, and rose to take c.60 seats in Parliament. As Labour has always enjoyed a comfortable majority, however, this has left them as powerless as they were when they had less than 10. Should the next election be more narrowly contested, they may find themselves in a position to form a majority coalition (almost certainly with Labour rather than the Tories).

In terms of policies, the Lib Dems historically sought to strike a balance between the two main parties. In the days of monetarism vs socialism, this was easy enough. As Labour shifted ground away from socialism, however, they briefly found themselves to the left of Labour economically. A recent internal revolution has placed them further right, dropping their “showstopping” 1% tax raise policy which at various times was earmarked for the NHS, schools, defence, transport and probably farming as well. Socially, they live up to the liberal in their name: early to oppose the Iraq war and just as quick to vote against extended detention for terror suspects (a flagship Labour policy which has recently been dropped.)

Other: There are a number of other parties in the UK, mainly regional: e.g. the Scottish NAtionalists, Plaid Cymru, Sinn Fein. As these are best discussed in the context of the devolved regional parliaments, however, the whole topic would be better saved for another post. Preferably, one written by someone more pithy.

In my country student activists kill each other over politics they do not even understand. America has not a massive cultural clash, it has a massive self regarding.

Point taken.

And which country is this?