Monday, June 7, 2010

Thanks to the UK Election, MMP is here to stay.

Next year New Zealanders get the chance to voice their opinion in a binding referendum about our electoral process.

The question is whether we want to keep MMP, or try something else.

The recent election results in the UK have sealed the fate of the upcoming electoral process referendum. It has reminded us all of the unfairness of the FPP system. 29% of Brits voted for Labour which equated to 258 seats, whereas the Liberal Democrats attained a respectable 23% of the vote, however, they only received 67 seats. The Lib Dems got more votes overall that they did in the last election, but lost seats. They are a smaller party today than they were after the previous election.

How is that fair?

Much like the anomalies in the UK election, there are anomalies in New Zealand’s current electoral system. The most obvious is the threshold. New Zealand First placed fourth in number of votes at the 2008 NZ Election, getting more that ACT, the Maori Party, Jim Anderton’s Progressives and United Future, nearly 100,000 New Zealanders wanted NZ First to be a part of the current governing parties, however due to the 5% threshold, they no longer are.

There is also an issue with accountability. A List MP can come in through a confidence and supply agreement and put forward legislation that changes the fabric of New Zealand society. There then seems to be no way that the people of NZ can hold them accountable. An obvious example of this is Sue Bradford.

The problem that faces those in New Zealand who would like to see any other electoral process other than MMP is that we don't understand any other system...STV, CV, SNTV, IRV?!? What the hell are they? They sound like they belong on the back of a car to me (I've always wanted a Commodore STV) and because New Zealanders en masse don't understand the other options we will choose to stay with one of the two we know, MMP or FPP.

People who are nervous of MMP will now look at the UK elections and go with the 'better the devil you know' option. People under 40 who never really used FPP will stay with what they know and the rest will be split - leading to the retention of MMP.

MMP is a satisfactory system. It is fair that the 157,000 people that want to vote for the Greens but don't have enough population density in one area to win a seat, should be represented in parliament. I do think that some changes need to happen though. John Key and Phil Goff have both stated they will vote for MMP and it has been said that if MMP is retained there will be a ‘shake up’.

A shake up is exactly what is needed. I have five suggestions.

The first is that we should either lower the threshold to 2%, or we should make the threshold 5% for everyone, and it shouldn’t matter if you have an electoral seat or not. ACT currently has 5 seats, but only 3.65% of the vote. This is because the equation for list MPs changes if you win an electoral seat ala Rodney ‘perk-buster until I can have them’ Hide.

Secondly, List MPs should not be able to put forward legislation. This wouldn’t stop parties like the Greens from putting forward legislation; it would just require them to have a sponsor MP to put the bill forward. This gives the NZ people a direct line of accountability. If an MP sponsors a bill that the public does not like, that MP can then be held accountable at the next election by their constituents.

This leads straight to my third point which is that an MP can should have to choose whether they will stand as a list MP, or an electoral MP, but not both. Politicians need to be made to understand that the electoral MP has more responsibility and there for is a more valued position to hold.

Following on from this, my fourth idea is that the electoral seats should be weighted more heavily. This could be done easily by giving list MPs one vote in the house, and Electoral MPs two. A List MP gets a vote for their party, and an Electoral MP gets a vote for their constituents and a vote for their party. One would hope that that may mean at times an Electoral MP may vote ‘yay’ and ‘nay’ on the same bill if the feeling in their electorate was contrary to what their party line was…this may be a little unrealistic though. If that idea was in place now there would be 192 ‘votes’ in parliament, and you would need 97 to have a majority. This number would obviously be a little fluid depending on overhangs. Under the current political make up, National would have 101 votes, Labour 62, The Maori Party 10, The Greens 9, ACT 6, JAP 2 and United Future 2. Click here to see the last few elections under this system

Finally my fifth idea is not necessarily tied only to MMP, but just an idea I have always liked. I feel that if a PM is rolled or resigns from his position, then a snap election should be called immediately. New Zealand has voted for a National government under John Key. Would New Zealand have voted as readily for a National Government under, say, Bill English? It would be a very different animal, and not what New Zealanders have endorsed.

Philosopher Joseph de Maistre said in 1811 “Toute nation a le gouvernement qu’elle mérite” – “Every country has the government it deserves.” In New Zealand in the 21st century we will get the government we deserve partly based on how we choose to elect them. It is time New Zealanders not just got the government we deserved, but the government we need.