MMP reform in NZ

The Electoral Commission’s report on MMP will make Parliament less representative.

By removing the one-electorate rule but only lowering the Party vote threshold to 4% half the parties currently in Parliament will disappear, and no new Parties will appear in their place.

My view is that MMP would be truly representative if we removed the list seat threshold entirely.

The current system balances representation with ‘practicality’ because the originators believed that a Parliament with many different Parties would be unworkable.

That thinking was framed by the existing First Past the Post electorate-based system.

We are now many elections into an MMP environment, and every Government has been a minority one.

We can see that New Zealanders, and their politicians, can handle multi-party governments or arrangements to government.

It turns out that multiple parties need not stop or hinder the carrying out of Government.

It also turns out that 5% was too large a hurdle for all but two small political Parties to cross consistently (Greens and NZFirst). ACT and the Alliance also crossed it in 1996. In fact, 4% is too large a hurdle as well. Only one other Party crossed that (Christian Coalition in 1996). The way we have seen most small Parties in Parliament is through the beautiful randomness of the one-electorate rule; where winning an electorate meant Parties didn’t need to cross the 5% threshold.

The one-electorate rule is an unfair barrier as it pits electorate seats against Party list seats. It has an influence-skewing effect, making those who win an electorate seat – often because of an identity-politician – more important than those parties who represent a larger number of voters across the country.

So the Commission is right to recommend the abolition of the electorate seat rule. But lowering the Party threshold to 4% is poor compensation. Under a 4% threshold, no minor parties apart from the Greens and NZFirst would have secured almost seats in the previous MMP Parliaments.

To keep the same amount of Parties in Parliament as we have seen to date we would need to drop the Party vote threshold to 2-3%.

Any threshold nullifies the value of some votes. I estimate that the current 5% threshold has meant the votes of up to 15% of all voters were wasted – because they were for Parties that fell below the threshold. These votes are effectively reallocated across the winning Parties.

Assuming that some potential minor-party voters choose to vote for “big” parties, it is possible that more than 15% of voters are not accurately represented by the Parties in an MMP Parliament.

I think that the Green’s original champion of MMP, Rod Donald, would NOT have supported this recommendation. He said “New Zealand would be worse off without smaller parties in parliament. The diversity which smaller parties offer truly makes for a House of Representatives.”

In my view, there should be no threshold at all. The percentage of Party vote required to win a seat would be equal to one seat: the number of list seats divided by the number of voters.

As a principal, groups of New Zealander voters should have the opportunity to be represented in Parliament by as little as one Party MP. They’ll be more sure of having their interests represented than most of us.

HT: Thanks to @tom_james_nz for pointing out Christian Coalition.

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