The Straits Times says

Gridlock will weigh on Australia

Divisive politics in Australia is pointing to a hung Parliament. This is an ironical rebuff to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's decision to call for elections precisely to rid Parliament of troublesome independents who held his legislative agenda hostage. The gamble backfired, just like British Prime Minister David Cameron's effort to cauterise the euro issue seething within his party and across the nation. These instances alone ought to persuade politicians elsewhere to seek other ways of resolving issues that have a polarising effect.

Whoever manages to cobble together enough support to govern, ordinary Australians are likely to pay the economic price for the electoral divisiveness that creates stalemate at the top rungs of politics. Democracy must reflect the will of the people. But if that will itself is distracted, divided, and directed against a country's core interests, it cannot produce the stability that nations need to translate the vote into viable and durable policy.

With four prime ministers so far in three years, the nation needs political certainty to progress. However, with the two major parties neck and neck, marginal or niche politicians will come to hold the balance of national power in their small hands. That can hardly be what supporters of Mr Turnbull's Liberal Party-led Coalition and the Labor Party would want. Yet, that is the reality Australians will have to deal with over the years to come. Another irksome aspect of the polls is the return to parliamentary prominence of anti-immigrant politician Pauline Hanson, who is directing her energies to what she sees as the threat Australia faces from religious fanatics. Other politicians are focusing on issues like the threat from gambling. While single issues are important to clusters of mass opinion, they surely should not detract from the overriding attention that Australians might pay to the broad future of the nation.

The hard truth is that Australia's mining-led economic boom is over for the foreseeable future. Prosperity now has to be derived from the optimal use of human resources unshackled from obstinate regulatory and bureaucratic practices.

Labour and other social protections are necessary to ensure that big business does not become a law unto itself. However, it would not do to stymie enterprise merely because of the possible dangers it poses. Striking a working balance between economic imperatives and social needs is the responsibility of major political parties, working together. Unfortunately, momentous choices may now have to be placed in the opportunistic hands of minor players in a hung Parliament.

Asian voters, some of whom take their cue from more developed countries, will suffer similar results if they form hardened positions and brook no compromise with others. Prolonged political gridlock is a dead-end road that can bring the wheels of even great nations to a grinding halt.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 07, 2016, with the headline 'Gridlock will weigh on Australia'. Print Edition | Subscribe