Tackling Hot-Button Liberal Issues in One Swoop
Next year, our country will hold public referendums to decide whether to legalise assisted suicide and recreational marijuana, and separately, lawmakers will consider a bill that would decriminalise abortion. Conflict-averse New Zealanders may be pushed onto uncomfortable ground, Charlotte Graham-McLay writes for The New York Times.
This burst of democratic action is in contrast to the legislative gridlock that has gripped countries like the United States and Britain. But it also threatens to push a generally conflict-averse New Zealand into uncomfortable territory, and it could overwhelm an election next year that will determine whether Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern remains in office, Graham-McLay writes.
New Zealand is a socially liberal country, though it is not clear where New Zealanders will fall when the three issues come up for consideration in the months ahead. Tackling them simultaneously could “foster an already growing culture war in New Zealand”, said Bryce Edwards, a political commentator and lecturer at Victoria University.
“Next year’s election could end up being one revolving less around economic issues and more about social and moral ones,” Edwards added.
That would be a shift in New Zealand, where election campaigns have long ceased being the province of personal morality debates.
That debate is taking New Zealand onto new ground. While recreational marijuana and euthanasia have been legalised by legislatures in a small number of countries, New Zealand is believed to be the first to put either issue to a public referendum. Both votes will be held at the same time as the election in late 2020.
Decriminalisation of abortion, the issue that may be decided in Parliament, is narrowly favoured by the public. Although abortion is technically illegal in New Zealand, it is widely available to those who obtain the approval of two doctors.
The reason for the double referendum is a quirk of New Zealand politics. Euthanasia and recreational cannabis were forced to a public vote by two minor parties that give Ardern’s Labour Party the majority she needs to govern.
The left-leaning Green Party insisted that marijuana be put to a public vote as part of its agreement to support Ardern, while New Zealand First, a populist group that holds the balance of power in Parliament, said it would support the passage of the euthanasia bill only if it also faced a referendum.
Original article by Charlotte Graham-McLay, The New York Times, November 26, 2019.
Photo by Cornell Tukiri.