It is election time here in Denmark. On 18 June 2015, Danish citizens residing in Denmark have the opportunity (the right, not the obligation) to vote for their favourite candidate for the National Parliament – Folketinget. The election was called on 27 May 2015 at 11am and just before 3pm when I left a seminar on innovation in the public serve, every fence and vacant wall space was filled with election posters.
The electoral system in Denmark is quite different to the one I am familiar with in Australia and Queensland. Denmark’s is a unicameral system, with 179 members. The Faroe Islands and Greenland populations elect each two candidates, 135 seats are filled from party lists within three electorate districts and 40 compensatory seats are filled to create national proportionality across the three districts’ population base and size and between votes for a party and seats in the house. Complicated calculations lie behind the end results, but the principle is that a party receiving 10% of the vote should have 10% of the seats in Parliament. A voter may vote for a particular candidate listed in their district or for a party. In the end analysis a vote for an unsuccessful candidate flows to her party, and any party receiving more than 2% of the national vote get a proportional amount of seats.
The power of the Danish system is that it does not ignore the preferred candidate or party of so many voters as in Australia. While political debate still revolves around a seeming duality of the ‘Blue’ and ‘Red’ parties, the model makes for a much more dynamic governance model, where smaller parties band together to form government and the result is that less single-minded policy is negotiated with government partners, oversighted by a diverse Parliament. One drawback is that because seats are not apportioned to an electorate, its representative does not have to reside in that place. One could rightfully question what a resident Copenhagen politician knows about the reality of life of people on the West coast of Jutland. Which is probably why there is so much talk in Parliament about the ‘Fringe-Denmark problem’.
Federally, the Australian system involves two houses – a house of representatives with 150 seats filled from electorates across the nation through a winner-takes all model in each electorate. The winner is determined voters’ preferences should their candidate not be successful in a two-party preferred system. Australia’s upper house is the Senate. Its 76 seats are allocated with 12 members to each state and four to each territory, irrespective of their population size. They are elected by votes for either a candidate or a party in each state or territory. It is compulsory to vote, and the preferential system results, effectively, in a two-party system with Labour on one hand and Liberal/National Parties on the other. Only rarely do small parties have a seat in the house of representatives, though independents and smaller parties are often represented in the Senate – to ‘keep the bastards hones’ as was the slogan of the now largely defunct Australian Democrats.
Unlike Australia, Denmark does not have compulsory voting. Yet at the last election in 2011, 87.7% of eligible Danes voted. However, this is actually higher than the actual participation in the Australian election in 2013. Only 92% of Australians eligible to vote are enrolled on the electoral roll. On top of that this election returned nearly 6% ‘informal’ votes – a vote is informal if a voter draws or writes on the page, returns it blank or omits numbering all the boxes in order of their preference.
One might argue that voting is such an important part of participation in civic life that citizens have an obligation to vote. One hundred years ago, in 1915, women won the right to vote in Denmark, some 13 years after women won it in Australia. It was a recognition that women, and servants without own home, were citizens on the same level as men. Offensive, really, that more than half the population were unable to participate in civic life.
While we should celebrate women’s right to vote and be grateful that we are fortunate to live in a democratic, free society, it is appalling that the right to vote has only slowly made changes for women in politics. Women are still not voted into Parliament at the same rate as men. In Denmark 39.1% of members are women and in Australia it is only 30.5%. Given women are about half the population, we still have some way to go. Another sad fact is that in Denmark and Australia the average income of women still trails that of men. In Denmark there is a wage gap of 14% and in Australia it is 17.1%, in spite of the fact that the educational level of women in each country now exceeds that of men. Women on corporate boards are woefully short in supply, as are female CEOs of companies. Some way still to go.
I look forward to seeing how this election turns out. Hopefully the composition of Parliament will eek towards gender equality. Secretly, I was hoping for an election in September so I could participate for the first time in 25 years. By then I will have reclaimed my Danish citizenship and as a current resident in Denmark be eligible to vote. Because I am not currently a citizen of Denmark I cannot, and when I move back to Australia with my dual citizenship, I cannot. Perhaps that is fair enough. But I would have enjoyed voting at this election – participation in democracy is not only a democratic right. To me it is also an important responsibility as part of the social contract you enter into through your belonging.