NZ Herald: MMP deserves to survive referendum

Today’s NZ Herald editorial reflects on the outcome of the UK referendum on Preferential Voting as an alternative to First Past the Post and saying how ‘lucky we are’ to have managed the reform of our 19th Century unfair First Past the Post (FPP) system.

The arguments for electoral reform were familiar to New Zealanders. A two-party choice no longer satisfies nearly all voters as it did a generation ago. Up to 25 per cent of voters are supporting other parties, but the system is not translating their votes into the same proportion of seats in Parliament.

MMP produced a bonus of a far more representative Parliament, in addition to enhancing the legitimacy of our democracy by not disenfranchising significant sections of voters.

Experience with MMP suggests voters for third parties are not interested in proportionate power, they want their vote represented in Parliament, not necessarily in the Government. Increasingly, the small parties have kept their distance from the governing party they support, preferring confidence and supply commitments to a formal coalition.

The Green Party have never given ‘confidence and supply’ to any Coalition Government [edit: other than the 1999-2002 Labour-Alliance one], yet has managed to work constructively with parties from all sides of the political spectrum.

All five elections under MMP have produced government by the party that was first past the post. Proportional representation has changed less than its advocates hoped or its opponents feared. Minority governments still rule, tails have not wagged dogs, stability remains. The previous Government lasted nine years; polls suggest most voters want the present Government to have a second term.

The word “Mixed” is overlooked when people criticise or attack MMP. MMP is not a pure ‘proportional representation’; it acknowledges our political heritage, which for many includes a focus on electorates and Electorate MPs. It also acknowledges the reality that voters in New Zealand focus on a ‘party’ and elect parties to office rather than individuals.

MMP is working well and could be better with some refinements. If it fails this year, it will be given a second chance against the preferred alternative. It deserves to survive – but voters are not theorists on electoral fairness, they want the system that produces the Government they want.

We have a system that works, for voters the process is be simplicity itself and it is ‘two ticks, one for an electorate MP and one for a party. There is little reason to upset the present arrangements – especially to return to FPP or one its surrogates such as has been proposed by Don Brash.

9 Comments Posted

  1. Something that hasn’t been noticed is how NACT have rigged the referendum.

    You’re mistaken. The process is the same as that used for the previous referendum on the method of voting. If a majority vote in favour of changing the system, there is a runoff between MMP and the most popular alternative in 2014.

  2. The Green Party have never given ‘confidence and supply’ to any Coalition Government

    surely the Green Party gave Confidence and Supply to the Labour-Alliance government from 1999-2002?

    [frog: Oops, we did too. Thanks for the correction. I have edited the post accordingly.]

  3. 1 preferential voting in the electorates

    I would rather have that on the list, but you would be limited to a first and a second preference, so for instance, your first preference might be for the Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party and your second preference might be for the Green Party. That would not only eliminate “wasted” votes, but would reduce the hurdle necessary for smaller parties to potentially get into Parliament (as people would not fear “wasting” their vote).

  4. Something that hasn’t been noticed is how NACT have rigged the referendum.

    There are two questions:
    a. Should the current MMP voting system be retained?
    b. Regardless of how you voted under part A, if there was a change to another voting system, which voting system would you choose?
    (FPP, PV, STV, SM)

    So MMP needs to get a plurality in part a to be retained, which would be 50% less non-voters/spoiled papers.

    If it doesn’t then any other system, such as FPP need only be in the lead over the other three systems.

    So if 48% of voters choose MMP on part a (and 49% ticked ‘another system’) and then 24% chose FPP in part b, then we’d be back to FPP. Even though it got half the votes of MMP.

    I call that a gerrymander.

  5. I’m glad the Herald of all commentators has come out in favour of MMP.

    Some day I’d really like to see STV used for electorate voting (but not replacing the nationwide proportional vote). STV seems well suited to localised elections where there’s a choice of one candidate amongst a relatively small number.

    One of MMPs biggest criticisms is the inability for voters to influence a party’s list order and therefore keep someone out of parliament. Telling people not to vote for Party X because they hate the person at number 3 only works so far, and makes the whole voting process very blunt. It’d be nice as a future improvement if people could indicate whom they wanted to be elected off a list when they voted, but I think that’d have to be designed very carefully to prevent it from being abused, and to prevent it from becoming so complex that nobody would bother voting.

  6. Amongst improvements to MMP are

    1 preferential voting in the electorates
    2 placing some seats into regional pools and using STV for them

    Otherwise retaining party lists.

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