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web posted December 25, 2000

Canada's election chief warming to mandatory voting

Canada's chief electoral officer says Parliament might have to pass a law requiring citizens to vote if turnout falls any lower than it was in last month's federal election.

Jean-Pierre Kingsley made his comments after releasing revised figures that show voter turnout for the Nov. 27 election might have been barely 60 per cent, the lowest in Canada's history.

While he finds the idea of a law compelling citizens to vote "repugnant," he said it might be needed if the participation rate continues to decline.

"So far, I didn't think it was necessary, but if we start dipping below 60 per cent, I'm going to have to change my mind," he said in an interview. Asked if he would support mandatory voting, he replied: "If the participation rate continues to drop, yes.

"Sometimes, in order to save democracy, you have to do things that might seem to run a little bit against it, but I certainly like the idea of voting freely, as opposed to ... being required to do it by law."

According to a study published last year in the Canadian Parliamentary Review, the participation rate in Australia, where voting is mandatory, is 94 per cent.

Voting is also compulsory in Belgium and Greece, where the turnout rates are 92 per cent and 80 per cent respectively.

Elections Canada has reported 12,813,647 people cast ballots.

The new figures reveal a total of 21,161,565 registered voters for this election, about 800,000 more than the 20.3 million the agency estimated on voting day. This brings the turnout down to 60.5 per cent from the previous calculation of 62.9 per cent.

Such a dismal participation rate would give Canada one of the worst records among the 29 industrialized countries in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, ahead only of Poland, Switzerland and the United States.

Canadian Alliance MP Ted White, his party's watchdog over election law changes, strongly opposes mandatory voting.

"I think people do make a conscious choice to not go out and vote and my feeling is they are entitled to make that choice," he said yesterday.

"If they're happy to have 12 per cent of the population make the decision, then so be it."

White said turnout likely dropped from the 67 per cent recorded in 1997 because a majority of the population is satisfied with the way the Liberal government has handled affairs.

"Much as I hate to say this, I think that people have been relatively happier with the way things have been going over the last five years than they were, say, in the previous five years," White said.

Kingsley said 1,054,902 people had to register at polling stations on election day in order to cast their ballots.

Upon arriving at the polls, they discovered their names were not on the permanent list of voters in their districts.

The permanent list, introduced in 1996 amendments to the Canada Elections Act but used entirely for the first time in the November election, replaced door-to-door enumeration for each federal election, an exercise that promoted participation but cost up to $75-million every time it was done.

Critics of the permanent list predict it will reduce voter turnout and cite as evidence the average participation rate of 53 per cent in the United States, where voters are responsible for registering themselves to vote.

There were complaints about the permanent list leading up to the election, with campaign organizers and even Elections Canada returning officers citing the discovery of deceased people on the list and the omission of people who had voted for years from the list.

Kingsley cautioned it is likely many names that were on the permanent voters list were duplications or names of deceased people and predicted the participation rate will be higher than 60 per cent once the list has been exhaustively scrutinized. He expected that to take more than a month to complete.

Kingsley said Elections Canada is paying the polling firm of Ipsos-Reid $298,000 for a thorough post-election analysis to determine the weaknesses and strengths of the voters list and other election systems.

Clinton prepared to 'stand and fight' if indicted

President Clinton said in an interview released December 19 he was prepared to "stand and fight" if he was indicted after leaving office.

Bill ClintonIn a wide-ranging, one-hour interview with CBS News taped the day before, Clinton said he wanted to rest for a while after leaving the White House, mused about some of his political adversaries, and said he didn't have a clue if his wife, Sen.-elect Hillary Rodham Clinton, might run for president.

Dan Rather, who conducted the interview, asked Clinton if he expected to be indicted by the office of the independent counsel, which investigated the Whitewater real-estate deal, his affair with Monica Lewinsky and a host of other issues.

"Look, I don't have any idea. I don't have any control over that and I don't spend much time thinking about it," he said in a transcript of the interview released by the White House.

Asked if he thought President-elect George W. Bush, the Republican Texas governor who takes his place on Jan. 20, might pardon him, Clinton said: "I haven't given any thought to that. But I doubt it. I mean, no, I haven't thought about that."

"Since I don't believe I should be charged, I don't want that," he added. "If that's what they want, I'll be happy to stand and fight."

Clinton, asked to say the first thing that came into his mind on a host of topics, offered some trenchant observations on his eight years in office and on his many adversaries.

Asked about the investigation of Whitewater, an Arkansas real estate venture that he and his wife invested in in 1978 and ultimately lost money on, he replied:

"Biggest bogus issue in modern American politics. Classic -- it was a fraud from the get-go and a lot of the people that were propagating it knew it was a fraud," he said.

Newt Gingrich, the former House Speaker who led the Republican takeover of Congress in 1994 and resigned during the impeachment crisis, came off relatively well: "A brilliant adversary, and a complicated man."

Not so for Tom DeLay, the Republican House whip who is known for his bare-knuckled tactics in enforcing discipline within his party.

"My problem with him is his whole view about how you should treat your opponents is very different from mine," Clinton said. "He's got a total scorch-and-burn policy -- take them out, whatever the cost, whatever you have to do."

Kenneth Starr, the independent counsel who presided over the investigation into Clinton's affair with Lewinsky and his dissembling to conceal it, also came in for some harsh words.

"They put him in there because (former independent counsel Robert) Fiske was a fair, balanced man and the whole thing was going to be over before the '96 election and they didn't want that," Clinton said. "So they put him in there; said drag it out and get a bigger body count ... he did just what he was supposed to."

Clinton said he thought talk that his wife, who has won a seat in the U.S. Senate representing New York, might run for president in 2004 or 2008 was "worse than idle speculation."

He said he had advised her to "solidify her roots in New York" and simply did not know if she, or anybody else, would definitely run for president.

Asked about his own plans, Clinton said he wanted to kick back and rest for a while, then make some money for his family, and eventually find a way to be useful without getting in the way of future presidents.

But first, he said: "I need to take a couple of months and just go down. I need to rest. I've been working like crazy for 27 years."

Chilean court overturns Pinochet indictment

Augusto PinochetChile's Supreme Court on December 20 threw out an indictment against former military ruler Augusto Pinochet on the grounds that the judge in the case had failed to follow proper procedure.

The ruling overturned both the indictment and the arrest warrant issued by Chilean Judge Juan Guzman, who had charged Pinochet in connection with the kidnappings and deaths of more than 70 political prisoners by the notorious "Caravan of Death."

The Caravan of Death was a military operation that executed political prisoners shortly after the September 11, 1973, coup in which Pinochet ousted democratically elected Marxist President Salvador Allende.

Four out of five Supreme Court magistrates in the criminal division voted to uphold a December 11 lower court ruling tossing the indictment on the grounds that Guzman did not interrogate Pinochet before issuing the indictment.

Guzman is still free to order Pinochet to be questioned on the charges and then to issue another indictment, but the general's attorneys are expected to press for medical exams in an effort to prove Pinochet is not medically fit to be questioned, arrested, or stand trial.

Pinochet, who suffers from a variety of physical ailments, faces possible trial in Chile on more than 180 counts of human-rights abuses. He was arrested in Britain in 1998 on a warrant from a Spanish judge, who wanted the general to stand trial in Spain on similar charges.

After British judges ruled Pinochet was physically and mentally unfit to stand trial in Spain, the general returned to Chile in March.

He had expected to enjoy immunity from prosecution as a "senator for life," but Chilean courts revoked that status in May.

Judge dismisses Philadelphia lawsuit against gun makers

A lawsuit the city filed against gun makers to recoup the costs resulting from gun violence was negated by an earlier state law, said a judge who dismissed the suit.

A 1995 law and an amendment four years later stripped Philadelphia and other municipalities of the power to either regulate or sue gun makers, U.S. District Judge Berle M. Schiller said on December 20. The authority to regulate firearms lies exclusively with the state Legislature, he wrote.

The city is reviewing Schiller's ruling and is "quite likely" to appeal, City Solicitor Kenneth I. Trujillo said.

Philadelphia filed its lawsuit April 11, joining more than 30 cities and counties that have sued gun manufacturers. Several of those lawsuits have been dismissed.

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