Don't vote for me - please

Unless you need fingers to count to 10 (or you're an NRL referee), you'd probably be aware it was the ancient Greeks who gave us a handy form of government known as democracy.

I'll leave the achievements of Cleisthenes to your high school ancient history teacher, as well as the role of the 10 tribes, the Council of 500 and random lotteries, all of which were fundamental in establishing the first known political system in which "the people" wielded primary political power.

What's often forgotten in discussions about democracy and the idea of majority or popular rule, is the Greeks also invented a rather ruthless little system to rid themselves of unpopular or dangerous citizens, known as ostracism.

Sometime between 506 and 487 BCE, the Athenians established this famous method of banishment which each year saw eligible citizens cast a ballot, not for the most popular figure amongst them, but the most hated.

If this person managed to "win" more than 6000 votes*, they were expelled from Athens for 10 years. If they dared show their face in the city in that time, they were executed.

After 10 years, however, once the ostracised had served their exile, they could return and all was forgiven and they re-acquired their rights as a citizen; their property and status would be as it was when they were given the boot a decade earlier.

Ostracism was so-called because votes were scratched on broken pieces of pottery known as ostracons, the ancient world's equivalent of scrap pieces of paper.

Archaeologists actually know a surprising amount about who were the most hated men in Athens at this time because thousands of these 'ostraka' have survived - with a suspicious number marked in similar handwriting.

Some scholars suggest this may be because illiterate voters were getting the literate to write down their vote for them. Others argue the fact the same name often popped up in the same handwriting proves vote-rigging was happening, even in our first democracy.


Now, as much as some people would like to see Tony Abbott ostracised, you can't argue he didn't win the two-party preferred vote with about 53 per cent, give or take a Melbourne lawyer.

Imagine, however, that at every election, you had to nominate your "most hated candidate" and whoever polled the greatest number of votes had to piss the hell off from Australia for 10 years, perhaps go live in Cairo or Jakarta?

Do you think this might keep politicians on their best behaviour? Make them honour promises from election to election? Tone down the partisan rhetoric? Perhaps be a little nicer to minorities?  

I'm not sure who I would have voted to ostracise this election - my hand would have hovered over my shard of clay as I considered the fates of Christopher Pyne, Clive Palmer, Mal Brough and Stephen Conroy.

Then, as I pictured their possible lives, banished to some insular, ugly, cultural backwater, I'd be overwhelmed by an urge to cruelty, crush my shard underfoot and walk from the polling booth content there can be no greater punishment than moving to Canberra. 

*There is some scholarly dispute over whether an ostracised person required 6000 votes in total or, if there simply needed to be a quorum of 6000 voters participating before a result was considered valid.

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