Australia has become the latest country to experiment with primary elections with the Labor Party using the technique to select their candidate for the Sydney Lord Mayor’s election, which will take place in September. The contest has been seen as a success with ten times the number of people taking part than in a normal party selection contest.
Refugee campaigner, Linda Scott, was the victorious candidate from a choice of five picking up 53 per cent of the vote after preferences had been redistributed under Australia’s ‘alternative vote’ system.
More than 4,300 residents living in the Sydney City Council region (around 5 per cent of those eligible) chose to vote in the primary either by post, in person at one of four polling stations, or online.
Their votes counted formed half the total in an electoral college where the other half was made up of around 400 eligible party members. Residents therefore outnumber party members by more than ten to one in the poll.
On Saturday, The Australian newspaper reported that the trial was part of an attempt by Labor to re-establish links with the community – New South Wales Labor secretary Sam Dastyari told the paper:
“We have to change how we select our candidates. We need more people involved in deciding who should represent the party and primaries are a way to achieve this.”
In 2010, three senior party figures recommended that primaries should be implemented nationally although no model has yet been agreed upon. Mr Dastyari will experiment with several further primaries in the run up to the state elections in 2015. It is hoped now that many of the new voters in Sydney will be converted into activists.
Australia’s experiment follows the French Socialist Party’s primary to select Francois Hollande as its successful candidate for President.
More than 5.5 million votes were cast over the two rounds of that contest with each voter paying a minimum of €1. The Socialists also collected contact details from more than 1 million individuals making it far easier to mobilise them during the presidential election.
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• French primaries point the way for democracy 11 Oct 2011
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The question now is whether the British Labour party will follow these successful examples from its sister parties and experiment itself.