TRADITIONALLY, third parties have been spoilers at elections.
Because our electoral system is first-past-the-post and not one of proportional representation, there is a perception that these parties simply split the vote, paving the way for old forces to hold sway.
The system also means that even when they do have widespread support nationally, “third parties” can fail to win a single seat.
So it is tempting to dismiss the proliferation of new, smaller parties ahead of the August 10 poll as a distraction.
But in a year in which covid19 has pushed campaigns online, the potential impact of these entities cannot be dismissed. Though small in size, their value is big.
About two dozen of these parties have, at last count, emerged (no doubt the exact number will become clearer on nomination day).
This alone is significant. It shows people are willing to think outside the confines of the current two-party system. That has been a structure that has been aligned with race, even if the traditional parties do not like to admit it.
More and more people are also fed up with the toxic politics of the red and yellow narrative. We need new ideas, fresh blood, a whole new way of doing things. Smaller parties, more nimble on their feet and not having to kowtow to head honchos, can energise things.
The mushrooming of these parties (though some have been around for years but are taking greater prominence now) also suggests people have faith in our democracy. It suggests more individuals are willing to put their money – or to be precise the $5,000 deposit – where their mouth is.
But it is quality, not quantity, that matters.
And here, too, is where newer voices are key. Though the two main parties tend to make heavy weather of their differences, it is easy to get a sense of exchange, not change, at each election.
Newer parties and independents can redirect the conversation to areas that might be overlooked. They can force local issues to the fore. For example, some of the newer parties are only contesting seat clusters in specific towns or areas.
Specialisation of this kind also lends itself to finding ways of working together and not against one another. Some of these parties have decided to co-operate during the campaign under a collective banner, which increases the likelihood of their being relevant and making a difference.
But perhaps one of the biggest reasons why we cannot afford to ignore smaller parties is because in this country we have a history of such parties being kingmakers. At several pivotal moments, smaller forces in Parliament have determined who sits in Whitehall.
This may well turn out to be another case of David and Goliath.