While the folks in Washington take their summer vacations, I thought it would be interesting to spend a couple of posts on upcoming elections in some of our allies. Australia is scheduled to hold its federal elections on September 7. Germany is scheduled to hold its federal elections on September 22, 2013.
Today's post is about the myth (or more accurately half-truth) that campaigns in other countries are shorter.
In Australia, the election date was not officially set until August 4, giving a 34-day campaign period between the announcement of the election and the date of the election. It is these short-time frame between the issuance of the writ of election and the date of election in many of the commonwealth countries that those who moan about the campaign length in the US cite for the questions about why can't campaigns in the US be shorter.
Most of these arguments ignore that the primary difference between the US system and the system in most of our allies is literally the primary.
In Australia and Germany (and the UK and Canada, etc.), there is no primary election. Instead, the candidates for parliament are chosen by consultation between the local, state/lander, and national parties. For the most part, these candidates are "pre-selected." In other words, knowing that there would be an election in 2013, the major political parties chose their candidates to run in X district some time in 2011 or 2012. The process of selection also makes it hard for the local party to kick an incumbent member of parliament off the ticket without the blessing of the national party.
Furthermore, the national parties typically choose their leaders well in advance of the election with the head of the governing party serving as prime minister/chancellor and the leader of the main opposition party taking a formal roll as leader of the opposition in parliament. I say normally because in both of the last two election cycles, in the last year before the election, the Australian Labor Party has replaced its leader (who also happened to be Prime Minister) going from Kevin Rudd to Julia Gillard in 2010 and back to Kevin Rudd two months ago. For the most part, the leadership battles in these parties are very short. (For example in the UK, the election of a new party leader typically is called within months of losing the last election and is over by that year's fall conference in October -- the equivalent of the US political convention except for being annual).
Because of this pre-selection process, the formal election campaign can be short. Back to Australia, the elections were called on August 4 and all parties had to file their list of candidates by August 15. In Germany, the time frame was a little bit longer with the lists of candidates due back on July 15 (this two month time period is roughly similar to the US States that hold a late August or September time frame).
Putting aside the extended primary campaign in the US, the alleged difference between the US system and the other countries is a myth. Every week that the Australian Parliament is in session, the opposition leader gets to publicly question the Prime Minister. Both cabinet officials (always a member of parliament) and the shadow cabinet (the opposition spokespersons on the subjects handled by the ministries, also members of parliament) regularly travel the country giving speeches on political topics. Just as in the US, there is very little honeymoon for a new government before the opposition begins to sharpen its swords and poke for weaknesses to exploit at the next election.