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Review of MMP and why it sets a dangerous
25 March 2012
decision by New Zealanders to keep MMP means that any changes
that come as a result of the “review” of MMP will be those
the politicians prefer to implement.
This piece discusses the scope of the “review”,
some desirable changes to MMP and the need for our politicians
to put any changes to our voting system to voters.
choice to hold the referendum with the election, the sneaky
inclusion of the MMP “review”, the Rugby World Cup and an
organised union effort ensured that MMP is here to stay.
the referendum campaign Vote
for Change argued strongly that the “review” was
flawed for two reasons. Firstly,
MPs will determine what (if any) changes occur with no
guarantee those changes will be put to Kiwis to vote on.
By ticking to keep MMP, New Zealanders have left the
fox to guard the hen house.
Secondly, Parliament set terms of reference so tight
that little can result to “fix” MMP anyway.
scope of the MMP “review”
matters that the Electoral Commission must review are:
the five percent threshold;
the “one seat” threshold ;
the ratio of electorate seats to list seats that
from the effects of population change on the number of
general electorate seats; or
if a party's constituency candidates have won more
seats than the party would be entitled to as a result of the
dual list and electorate candidacy;
party's ability to determine the order of candidates on
its party list and the inability of voters to rank list
candidates in order of preference (list order determination);
any other feature of the voting system referred to the
Commission by the Minister of Justice or the House of
Commission may consider other aspects of MMP however MPs
excluded the politically inconvenient issues of Maori
representation and the number of members of Parliament. Nothing
has been referred to the Commission under (f).
of the public discussion on the “review” is likely to be
focused on the thresholds.
A common criticism of MMP during the campaign was the
“one-seat” threshold rule.
The rule applies when a party’s candidate wins an
electorate seat and allows that party to receive its full
allocation of seats, even if it does not reach the five
percent party vote threshold.
rule allowed five ACT MPs into Parliament in 2008, thanks to
Rodney Hide winning Epsom.
That was despite ACT receiving only 3.65 percent of the
party votes. New
Zealand First, despite receiving 4.07 percent, did not get a
has publicly called for the one seat threshold to be
system that purports to be proportional should not have a rule
that is contradictory and undermines the confidence of what
MMP tries to achieve.
party vote threshold is a more difficult question. Most
left-wing groups are arguing that without the one seat
threshold, five percent is too high for new parties to get
into Parliament. The
center-right may consider a reduction in the party vote
threshold to three or four percent to allow a Christian party
or ACT replacement into Parliament.
we should be cautious of a lower threshold that increases the
chance of further fragmentation of Parliament and more complex
governing arraignments. More
small parties holding the balance of power inevitably leads to
more government spending as a result of post election
allows the party or parties holding the balance of power to
force Labour and National to spend money placating the small
party’s particular voting bloc.
there was no threshold at all, the Bill and Ben Party (a joke
political party registered by two comedians) would likely
have held the balance of power after the 2008 election.
The best party vote threshold is therefore a judgment
Commission may have difficulty assessing the proportionality
of electorate seats with the growing population (as it is
required to do) without commenting on the number of MPs as a
an electorate seat under MMP merely results in that party
receiving one fewer list MP.
That is the key difference between MMP and
Supplementary Member, the system Vote
for Change favoured. Under
Supplementary Member the party vote proportionality was only
applied to the list MPs, not the whole Parliament.
population size (and therefore the number) of electorates is
currently determined by dividing the South Island population
by 16. Because the
proportion of New Zealanders living in the South Island is
decreasing (exacerbated by the Christchurch earthquakes) the
number of electorates will increase when electorate boundaries
are redrawn after the census.
Commission will be cautious to ensure that the number of
electorates does not cause “over-hangs” (where a party
wins more electorate seats than the number of seats it would
otherwise be entitled to).
Increasing the number of electorates without increasing
in the number of list MPs, and the overall size of Parliament,
would give results similar to Supplementary Member.
The 16 seat South Island “quota” may need to be
examined unless the size of Parliament increases (the size of
Parliament is currently being reviewed by a separate
Constitutional Review Panel).
overhang provision, that increases the overall number of MPs
when a party receives more electorates than its party vote
entitles it to, is likely to be examined.
Voters for Change
will be submitting that provision be removed meaning that
the number of MPs would not vary from 120.
candidacy enables a party’s candidates to contest electorate
seats while also campaigning for their party and standing on
the list at the same time.
main objection to dual candidacy is that it allows for
rejected electorate MPs to sneak back into Parliament on party
candidacy may prevent electorate MPs from standing up to their
party bosses to protect their constituency’s interests as
the incentive to retain a high list position applies even if
the MP wins an electorate.
are some disadvantages to abolishing dual candidacy.
Some senior MPs would not be on party lists, and other
MPs and Ministers that choose to only run on the list may have
little reason to leave Wellington. Analysis
by the Maxim Institute suggests that sitting electorate MPs
who lose their electorate race are usually allocated low list
positions at the following election anyway.
lists, whereby voters can influence the order in which list
candidates are elected, are an attractive way to decrease the
power of party hierarchies.
Candidates have a greater incentive to campaign
directly to voters. If
a particular candidate receives enough votes, he or she may be
elected as a list MP despite not being high enough on the
party list to otherwise get into Parliament.
difficulty is that it makes voting papers very large and
complicated. To be
effective open lists require an engaged electorate.
for Change is
likely to endorse a middle option that strengthens the
internal party processes for determining list rankings.
Currently the Electoral Act only requires party lists
to be determined by a democratic procedure.
The result is that, with the exception of the Greens,
the governing bodies of the parties determine the lists.
Voters for Change would like to see a requirement that party
membership, not party bosses, determine the order of lists.
We think that ensures that list ranking is competitive
and informed, but does not rely on just the party hierarchy.
the changes to the people
main theme Voters for Change will be emphasising in its submission to the
Commission is its concern that the “review” process sets a
dangerous precedent for constitutional change.
Kiwi voters will have no opportunity to reject any
changes the politicians propose after the Commission has
voting system should be controlled by voters.
The “review” of MMP should have occurred before the
2011 referendum so that the changes could be put to the
by putting the cart before the horse, has risked the
legitimacy of the changes that may result from the
politicians should ensure that proposals are put to the people.
problem is easily solved.
Labour and National must do more than require
cross-party consensus on electoral matters.
They should ensure changes to our voting system will be
put to the people in referenda.
The current approach implies a belief that our
electoral system is for politicians.
It is not. Changes
should be approved by voters, not the very people likely to
MMP “review” process will make screwing the scrum
tempting. We must
stand against such a path and prevent the MMP “review”
from turning into National’s version of the Electoral
Finance Act, a tool used by politicians for their own
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