Australian algebra

However loopy matters were here in the early winter of December 2008, we can now look with some pity upon the Australians, they now embarking on their own version of the 2000 U.S. presidential election.

At the moment, with the final count of last weekend’s election still being tallied, the incumbent Labour government has been declared the winner of 72 seats, one short of a majority. The Liberal-National coalition has been declared winners in 70 seats. Of the four seats that remain in doubt, three are leaning toward the coalition, the other to Labour, meaning the two sides could end up tied.

The coalition leads the Labour side on the primary popular vote by a count of 44% to 38%. But Australia’s electoral system also has a two-party preferred ballot and on that count Labour leads the coalition by a count of 50.7% to 49.3%.

One side or the other will have to gain the necessary support to govern from the three independents and one Green who make up the rest of the legislature. The race is apparently on to gain such support, as is the debate over who at the moment can claim greater legitimacy. The governor general would, conceivably, have to sign off, except that in this case the governor general’s daughter is married to a member of the Labour government and so, to avoid a perceived a conflict of interest, the governor general may have to delegate the authority to make this decision.

As far as what follows, it is unclear, from the Canadian perspective, how Stephen Harper’s Rules of Order—coalitions formed after an election are “undemocratic” and “losers” don’t get to form coalitions—would be applied to such a situation. Is a post-election coalition acceptable if it is necessary? What exactly constitutes a coalition? Is it a coalition if one cuts a deal with an individual independent? And, most profoundly, who is the “loser” in the event of a tie?