A Presidential Election?

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Revised 2 October 2008

In a rather presumptuous political stunt the Republican Movement of Aotearoa is running an “electoral process to select a suitable President for a New Zealand Republic”.

Lewis Holden, Chair of the RMA, announced the five top candidates for the presidency (in alphabetical order) as: Professor James Belich, Jim Bolger, Dr Claudia Orange, Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, and Sir Wilson Whineray.

Any one of these five would be considered a suitable candidate for the office of Governor-General within the present regime.   Sir Wilson Whineray is an All Black captain-cum-corporate business man, Kiri Te Kanawa is an opera diva, James Belich and Claudia Orange are academics, and Jim Bolger a former National Party Prime Minister.    There is as good a balance of the genders as could be obtained in a list of five, and Maori are represented more or less in proportion to their numbers.   None are notable republicans, although Bolger, despite having sworn allegiance to the Queen, is rumoured to have republican sympathies.   Kiri Te Kanawa and Wilson Whineray, having accepted royal honours, would appear to be sympathetic to the monarchy.

The RMA is giving the impression that a change to a republic could be followed by “politics as usual”.    In particular, it is implying that the ostensibly “apolitical” monarch could be succeeded by an ostensibly “apolitical” President.   (Jim Bolger, although a National Party Prime Minister, has forged close relations with the current Labour-led government, and so can claim to have risen “above politics”).

Every state tries to perpetrate  the illusion that the "apolitical" core of its being remains unsullied by the grubby workings of the everyday world.    The United States of America, which does have a political head of state, uses the "Stars and Stripes" flag to symbolize the "pure heart" of the nation and the state.   When Americans pledge allegiance to “the flag” they believe that they are demonstrating their loyalty to that exalted ideal, abstracted from all the shabby goings-on in the congress, the senate and the administration.   But they are really engaging in a cult of the state, which is just as repugnant, and just as dangerous, as the cult of personality or any other kind of cult which gives exalted status to human beings and their social institutions.

The only purpose of the “apolitical” symbol of state  - whether a flag, a monarch, or “apolitical” president - is to conceal the true nature of the state and to divert attention from the actual goings-on of those who administer it.    States, and political institutions generally, should be accountable.   They should be judged by their actions.   They should not be allowed to cloak themselves in the flag or hide themselves behind an "apolitical" head of state.

The RMA is a vehicle for people like David Farrar, who is an intensely political person.   Farrar does not want a 'political' president who would be a committed and principled republican.  He wants a figure-head president, whether a respected academic, sporting hero or opera diva, behind whose apolitical persona he, David Farrar, would be free to further his own political agenda.   Farrar and the RMA want a republic which would not differ from the present regime in any way except the particularity of its symbols.   In all other respects it would be business as usual, with Farrar's own political clique taking upon itself the right to select a suitably obliging  "apolitical" head of state.