Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard surprised voters on Wednesday by announcing that national elections will be held September 14, in a country where governments have traditionally given the opposition little more than a month’s notice to keep a strategic advantage.
September 14, 2013, falls on Yom Kippur, leading former opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull to post on Twitter that he was “deeply disappointed that Julia Gillard chose to hold the election on Yom Kippur — the most solemn and sacred day of the Jewish year.”
Australia, home to more than 100,000 Jews, has compulsory voting, meaning all citizens must cast their vote in national elections or face a penalty, usually a fine or community service.
According to Jewish Community Council of Victoria president Nina Bassat, since elections are always held on Saturdays, Orthodox Jews are already used to casting their votes via the mail.
“This, however, will hit the entire community, even the less observant,” she told the Australian Business Spectator website, “because it is the most holy day of our religious calendar, so people who wouldn’t have been organizing a postal vote will now have to do so and it may disenfranchise some people. To put it on a day where it’s just going to be that much more difficult for people is a little bit disappointing… but people will get around it.”
New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies chief executive officer Vic Alhadeff said there was “no issue” with the date, because Jewish community members could use the postal option to cast their vote.
In a speech to the National Press Gallery, Gillard said she wanted to create an environment in which voters could more easily focus on national issues by removing uncertainty around the timing of the elections.
“I reflected on this over the summer and I thought it’s not right for Australians to be forced into a guessing game, and it’s not right for Australians to not face this year with certainty and stability,” she said, referring to her holiday break during the current Southern Hemisphere summer.
Experts disagreed about whether Gillard’s unconventional move would give her an advantage in the elections. Some said voters would embrace her for making the early announcement on the date, while others suggested that Gillard had created a grueling eight-month election campaign instead of the usual five-week period.
Opinion polls suggest the conservative opposition coalition led by Tony Abbott is likely to win the elections convincingly.