Editorial: Chance to make MMP even better

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It is up to New Zealanders to say how they want the MMP system shaped. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Now that the country has voted resoundingly to keep MMP, it is invited to suggest ways to improve the system. The Electoral Commission has begun the discussion with a paper that raises a few familiar questions for public comment but the review need not be confined to them. The commission says it is keen to hear any ideas. It should hear plenty.

After 15 years and six elections, just about everyone has something they do not like about the system. For many it is the idea of list MPs, who are chosen entirely by party officials and never need subject themselves to a popular vote. Others see that as a strength of the system. It allows parties to bring into Parliament people who represent minorities, or people with expertise who are not willing to undergo a personal electoral ordeal.

The list system undoubtedly has improved the representation of immigrant minorities and gays and produced ministers of the calibre of Steven Joyce in the present Cabinet and Margaret Wilson in the last. But it has also put into Parliament people who seemed ill-suited to politics, made no impression while there and were sometimes replaced by another nonentity. Whereas electorate vacancies must be filled from a byelection, the occupants of list seats can come and go largely unnoticed.

Whatever the calibre of party appointees to Parliament, it seems wrong that they are not subjected to some sort of electoral test. Perhaps list seats should have to be filled by the party's highest polling losers in electorates - or perhaps an American system of party primary elections could compile the lists.

Some American primaries are open to all voters in the state, others are restricted to voters who have registered with one of the parties. The restricted system could work for party lists under MMP. Candidates for the list could campaign for the support of voters registered with the party for a primary in each region before the election. They would be ranked for list seats in order of their total vote at the end of the primaries.

A byproduct of this system could be greater participation in political parties. The time has long gone when parties such as National and Labour had mass memberships. They function these days on the efforts of MPs with paid electorate secretaries and some loyal activists and aspirants. People are less likely to join political parties or declare an allegiance, and they are given no reason to do so.

If they were able to register for a vote in a keenly contested list primary, it might inject life into parties at the grassroots and policy-making might cease to be the preserve of an elite that it has become.

The MMP review can also expect to hear criticism of the threshold exemption for small parties that manage to win a single electorate. It is in the interests of major parties to make room for a certain ally to win an electorate because the seat becomes additional to their proportional allocation. The ally might be then awarded two or more seats on a party vote well below the 5 per cent threshold. Jim Anderton, Peter Dunne, Rodney Hide and now John Banks have prospered on this oddity.

Proportional representation in New Zealand has developed characteristics its advocates did not expect. Unlike MMP's only model, Germany, we have not developed a taste for formal coalitions. Single-party minority governments supported by loose "confidence and supply" agreements have been preferred. We do not give three or four parties strength in Parliament. Power alternates between two familiar parties and their tiny "add-ons".

With just two changes of government in 15 years the system has proven stable. It has been deservedly endorsed at a referendum. With a tweak or two it can be even better.

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37 Comments

stuart

- South Korea
10:30 am Wednesday 22 February 2012
The fatal flaw of MMP is not list seats, though they are not without problems, but that MMP explicity endorses parties, and partisanship has no value in terms of good governance.

We are in the twenty-first century now, and although New Zealand's internet is still in the twentieth century, if not the nineteenth, we ought to be pursuing the possibilities for greater public participation that the internet affords.

When I look at parliament I see a group of mostly unenlightened and pedestrian souls, at least half of whom subscribe to dogma or personality cults that render them unfit to represent the public.

I want to make my own decisions without these self-interested fellows thank you very much, and I imagine plenty of New Zealanders feel the same. All we need is a forum, and a voting system with a robust security key - ie one requiring a dongle.

As the numbers of self-representing citizens rise, they can displace parliamentary seats in the same way the numbers on the Maori roll do. The proportion of electronic votes on an issue can readily be calculated in MP equivalents. This will be a salutory check on political corruption achieved at a fraction of the cost of the present system

Jafa

- Mt Roskill
11:09 am Tuesday 21 February 2012
Like small Government? Somalia is the place for you. There is no way what you describe could be called proportional. Party leaders already have a "block vote" to all intents and purposes.

Fortunately the bulk of the voting population are clever enough to see that they are better enfranchised under MMP

Jafa

- Mt Roskill
11:08 am Tuesday 21 February 2012
More disinformation. Canadians also have provincial governments, which you have conveniently excluded from your tally.

Jafa

- Mt Roskill
11:08 am Tuesday 21 February 2012
Spot on Paul. Its that simple. This "list MPs are not elected" mantra is just another slogan from reactionary soundbite factories like Crosby-Textor.

The thing that needs fixing is the threshhold exemption for gaining an electorate seat. That needs to go.

Rob Kestrel

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11:08 am Tuesday 21 February 2012
I really don't see the problem. Party lists are established according to the processes of each individual party. If voters want to be part of the prcess of selecting lists, all they need to do is join a party. And you are completely wrong to say that lists are not "subjected to some sort of electoral test" - we vote for party lists, for heaven sakes. If you don't like the way the list is selected or don't like the composition of the list - don't vote for it.

Gandalf

- St Heliers
11:08 am Tuesday 21 February 2012
Its better than the current arrangements, but it gives too much power to the PM. And what do you do on conscience issues if you dont have list MPs or a block vote? Better just to let the public rank the lists.

Mac

- New Zealand
11:08 am Tuesday 21 February 2012
The lack of voter input into the selection of "List MP's" is where MMP falls over. If we go back a few years, the inclusion of Alamein Kopu by Jim Anderton on the Alliance Party list is surely the most obvious of MMP fails. Interestingly documented on Wikipedia.

In today's parliament, we have a complete Party that is there only as list MP's. The Greens! Sure the people voted the Party in with the "Party Vote" but they would never make it if they had to stand as individuals.

I do agree that we must have proportional representation, but when the main parties are watered down with the inclusion of voters conscience fantasy inclusion of a party that they think will keep the main parties in check, we are all going to be held to ransom. What if through some crazy anomaly, the greens pulled enough of the party vote to actually rule the roost! I think I would leave soon after! It is bad enough that they can now swing the balance of power.

How to fix this is the question? Until we get some transparency and quality people on party lists, we are always going to have a government suitable for the kindy playground if the commentary broadcast each day is anything to go by.

Small govt is good

- Remuera
03:46 pm Monday 20 February 2012
Get rid of list MP's by giving party leaders a block vote except on conscience issues. Increase the number of electorates to keep the actual number of MP's the same. You get a real local MP, no backdoor list mp's, all MP's have actually been elected and a proportional parliament all in one go at no extra cost. What could be better?

ad.absurdum

-
03:46 pm Monday 20 February 2012
The country has voted resoundingly to keep MMP so how come we get to suggest ways improve the system so it is like some other system; maybe we could improve MMP so it's more like FPP.

robbo

-
03:46 pm Monday 20 February 2012
It seems extraordinary that one of the suggestions put forward by the Commission on the Electoral system was that an advantage of MMP was that it removed the need for separate Maori seats.

Yet here we are after multiple MMP elections, with the Maori seats still in place and the review we are now embarked on specifically ruling out any submissions on that topic.

Andre Terzaghi

-
03:46 pm Monday 20 February 2012
A lot of the distrust of MMP has been the perception of minor parties having undue influence, given weight by the likes of Anderton, Hide, Dunne, Peters, Banks etc being appointed ministers. How about making it a requirement for ministers to be members of a party that gets a minimum 5% or even 10% of the party vote? That could take away a lot of the potential for the tail to wag the dog.

Paul

- New Zealand
03:46 pm Monday 20 February 2012
Like the 48-and-a-bit-percent mandate the current Govt has to govern and sell assets down to the MOM? The one given to them by the voters in Epsom and Ohairau who created and overhand seat in parliament so that Dunne and Banks bring a one seat outright majority? Thats fair, Epsom voters get two MP's (National list and ACT electorate) and thus in effect decide the future of our country. Same rubbish under Labour with Jimbo and Dunne proping them up.

The votes of one electorate do not necessaily reflect those of the rest of the country. Why should one elcetorate have the power to keep someone out of parliament who the rest of the country might like to see there?

Why should be make it an either or? I'd rather see someone run and fail and know what they're made of if they get in, than not see them run at all and just turn up. Even worse would be to only see second raters run in electorates while the top shop stay on the list to be sure they get in.

Paul

- New Zealand
03:46 pm Monday 20 February 2012
There is a mechinisim where list MP's are exposed to public ballot. It's called your party vote. If you don't like the people on the list don't vote for the party.
If enough people don't vote, the person you don't like won't make it in.

If a prty wants to survive it has to have a list that will attract enough voters to vote for it. Voting for the party is endorsing the people on the list. Why is that hard to understand?

Paul

- New Zealand
03:46 pm Monday 20 February 2012
So lets also do away with the electorates as a whole then. Why should one are get two or three MP's benifiting from a combination of list and electorates while others only get one?

Paul

- New Zealand
03:46 pm Monday 20 February 2012
They might have been rejected by a few thousand people but that doesn;t mean the majority fo the rest of NZ doesn't feel they have merit.

In a reverse of yoru argument, just over 51% of NZ voters who voted rejected the ideas of National, ACT, and United Future and voted for parties that pledged to keep assets but we still have those guys as a Govt adn asset sales are still on the cards.
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