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review set to make problems worse
25 March 2012
Zealand public have been duped.
Kiwis supported keeping MMP at last year’s
referendum in a large part due to the promised “MMP
Review”. We were
told that MMP would be improved by the Electoral Commission.
We were promised an MMP 2.0, a version that would
address its weaknesses. Instead,
what we’re likely to get is an MMP more
suited to the interests of political insiders, worse at
holding MPs to account and even more susceptible to tails
Commission is required to report to the Minister of Justice by
31 October on suggested changes to MMP.
The Commission has published a Proposals
Paper detailing the recommendations the Commission
proposes to make. It
is currently accepting submissions on the Proposals Paper.
toning down the worst aspect of MMP, the proposals would
exacerbate MMP’s inherent problems.
In my March
NZCPR guest column I noted that the Government set-up the
electoral referendum so that it will be MPs that determine
what changes are made to MMP as a result of the current
review. It left
the foxes to guard the henhouse.
During the referendum campaign, Vote
for Change consistently argued that the review should have
happened before the referendum so that New Zealanders could
know what they were voting for and have the final say on how
our voting system works.
recommendations can be ignored by the Government, there will
be considerable pressure to implement them, especially by
opposition parties if the recommendations are, as expected,
advantageous to small parties and the centre-left.
key failings of MMP
strives to be “proportional”, the real power it gives
small parties, particularly those that hold the balance of
power, is anything but. A
small party that holds the balance of power can force Labour
and National to bid for their voting block’s support.
We saw this by Winston Peters in 1996 and 2005.
Instead of winners and losers on election night, MMP
has lead to more backroom deals, unpredictability and complex
key failing of MMP is the power of party hierarchies.
MMP weakened the accountability of MPs to voters.
Instead of politicians working to keep the support of
their electorates and voters, MPs are incentivised to follow
party lines in the hope of being protected by a high list
anticipated that the Commission’s review would go some way
to fix these main anomalies.
Even the Campaign for MMP’s tag line was “Let’s
keep MMP and make it even better”.
the Commission looks to have capitulated.
recommendations would make MMP even worse
significant proposal is to reduce the party vote threshold
from five to four per cent.
That will make it easier for small parties to enter
combination with a separate proposal to remove the possibility
of seat overhangs, it will make Labour and National even more
beholden to small coalition partners.
submissions by political theorists and academics argued for
no, or a lower party vote threshold.
Nearly all the former politicians and those with a more
practical experience of politics cautioned that lowing the
thresholds comes with a price of less stable, predictable and
manageable government. Remember,
that if there was no threshold at all, the Bill and Ben Party
(a joke political party registered by two comedians) would
have held the balance of power after the 2008 election.
Prime Minister Sir Geoffrey Palmer, a vocal supporter of MMP,
said in his submission to the Commission:
I support leaving the threshold at 5 per
sacrifice to proportionality and in wasted votes is not great
as a result, but the proliferation of small parties is to be
avoided. It has
substantial implications for governance.
It gives the impression that the tail wags the dog.
It can complicate negotiations on the formation of a
position was despite Sir Geoffrey’s preference for the
one-seat threshold removal (see below).
His submission also noted that Sir John Wallace, Chair
of the Royal Commission that originally recommended the
adoption of MMP, favoured the five per cent threshold in order
to guard against the possibility of ineffective government if
there are too many small parties.
Geoffrey went on to say “At present there are eight parties in Parliament.
That is enough.”
Winston Peters supports a five per cent threshold.
He argues that four per cent would come with an
unacceptable cost to government stability.
That view is despite New Zealand First arguably having
the most to gain from the change.
significant proposal is to abolish the one-seat threshold or
“coat tailing” rule. The
rule allows parties to bring in their proportion of list MPs
(even if they do not reach the party vote threshold) if a
party’s candidate wins an electorate seat.
This rule can incentivise the large parties to back
candidates of support parties to ensure that the support party
makes it into Parliament. After
the Epsom “cup of tea” fiasco last year, Vote
for Change called for the one-seat threshold to be
that the lowering of the threshold to four per cent is partly
justified by the removal of the one-seat threshold.
That is a non sequitur.
The one-seat threshold exists to ensure that geographic
constituency based parties (for example if a “Southland
Party” were to emerge) have fair representation. In
comparison the party vote threshold is to ensure that extreme
or small interest based parties cannot jeopardise stable
the former should not justify a partial sacrifice of the
Commission has failed to tackle the power of party bosses and
make MPs more accountable to voters instead of parties.
electoral law only requires “participation” by members of
for candidate selection. That
has allowed parties’ semi-elected governing boards to
ultimately determine party lists.
The only party that gives its members a meaningful
democratic input on its list is the Greens.
accountable in some way to all party members is at least
preferable to accountability to the small elite that sit on
the Governing Boards of political parties.
Vote for Change urged
the Commission to at least require political parties to allow
party members a vote on list rankings (even if the results
were nonbinding but publicly available).
to increase the accountability of MPs and decrease the power
of party bosses is to prevent “dual candidacy”.
That would either prevent candidates standing in both
electorates and on the list, or ensure that once an MP is
accountable to an electorate, he or she cannot then be
“saved” by the list if the MP loses the seat.
the Commission rejected these proposals and offered nothing to
increase transparency or accountability.
As with the
referendum, the unions and left wing interests have mobilised
their base. Most
of the suggestions made in submissions and the resulting
preliminary recommendations are focused at “fairness” and
“representation” rather than accountability.
The proposals, if implemented, would be beneficial to
the small parties and the (generally more fractured) left.
hands-off approach first to the MMP referendum and now the
review, may come back and bite it with a voting system that
helps the opposition and results in less stable government.
Williams was spokesperson for the 2011 electoral referendum
campaign ‘Vote for Change‘ and is a commercial and
constitutional lawyer at Franks & Ogilvie.
Submissions on the Electoral Commission’s Proposal Paper close at 5pm
on Friday 7 September. Submissions
can be made online at www.mmpreview.org.nz
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