Monday, September 14, 2015

Parliamentary democracy takes down one of the world's most unpleasant democratically elected leaders

Smiling all the way to the gallows.
The caucus of the Australian Liberal (i.e., conservative) Party removed Prime Minister Tony Abbott from the leadership and selected cabinet member Malcolm Turnbull to succeed him, effective immediately. No election is planned, as the Liberal government commands a majority in Parliament and its internal changes do not change the Parliamentary situation.  BBC News online seems to have the best summary of events.

I'm loving it not just because Tony Abbott seemed from this distance a truly repellent leader, as well as being wrong on economic policy (austerian), foreign policy (militaristic) climate change (denial), gay marriage (opposed), and even the monarchy (pro).

Mostly it's because it gives the world, and Canada more than most places, another illustration of how parliamentary democracy can work. We elect MPs who are accountable to us, and a majority of the MPs then select a leader or leaders to form a government.  That government remains accountable to the MPs on a daily basis, and when it screws up so badly as to offend the caucus that put it in power and/or endanger the MPs' reelection prospects, they decide whether or not to make the leadership change the country is asking for.  Voila.

Mr Abbott's successor as prime minister is reported to be less hostile to gay rights and at least less fervent in his denial of climate change.   Good all around.

Let me just emphasize that if, say, the Canadian Conservative caucus of MPs held a similar meeting today, they would have every right and every power necessary to remove Mr. Harper from the leadership, effective immediately, and to select a replacement.  Right now, they might have a problem finding a new leader in their ranks -- but that's not a legal or constitutional problem.

Update:  Twitter suggests many Canadian high foreheads are pondering how Michael Chong's Reform Act would affect a Canadian move resembling the Abbottouting. Short answer: not at all.  A parliamentary act does not override the accountability principle fundamental to our parliamentary democracy, and if anyone could find a Reform Act clause that seemed to, the MPs could safely ignore it as inapplicable.
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