Debating the Threshold

July 29th, 2011 at 3:19 pm by David Farrar

Idiot/Savant at No Right Turn has responded to my blog post where I agreed with him on keeping the one electorate seat , but advocated the party vote should be 4%, rather than abolished.

He notes my position is the same as the Royal Commission which said:

the Commission considers that the [4%] threshold is a justifiable and desirable means of preventing the proliferation of minor parties in the House. Such a proliferation could threaten the stability and effectiveness of government.

I/S says:

Which probably sounded good back in the safe, conformist, 2-party world of 1986, where we hadn’t had a coalition government for over fifty years, and political difference and dispute was seen as threatening. But to modern eyes, it seems quaint – not to mention sniffily undemocratic. To point out the obvious, we currently have 8 parties represented in our Parliament, and in the past have had as many as 9. And it hasn’t threatened the stability or effectiveness of government one bit

First of all I would disagree that there hasn’t been an impact on stability and effectiveness. Clark went early in 2002 due to the collapse of the Alliance as one example.

But the measure is not how many parties get into Parliament, but how many do you need to *all* agree to be able to pass a law. Here’s what the situation would be under 5%, and no threshold since 1996:

1996 – Nat/NZF would not have been a majority and would have needed either ACT or Christian Coalition or both United and Legalise Cannabis to govern. Was hard enough to be stable with Winston, let alone needing either Graham Capill or the Legalise Cannabis Party to agree to the budget.

1999 – Labour/Alliance needed Greens to pass laws, and no change at 0% threshold

2002 – Labour/Progressive/UF had 62/120 seats. With no threshold they would be 59 seats. UF had ruled Greens out so they would need either Christian Heritage, Outdoor Recreation, or Alliance to support.

2005 – The only change would be Destiny would have one MP

2008 – National would not be able to choose to pass laws either with ACT or Maori, but only if both agreed. That to me would not be stable or effective.

There are two reasons for this. The first is that our political culture doesn’t support destabilising, winner-take-all, toys-out-of-the-cot tantrum politics. Winston Peters tried that in 1996, the electorate punished him for it in 1999, and our parties have learned their lesson:

Actually with no threshold, there is no chance of a party being wiped out, so I think they would be more likely to have tantrums. Falling under the threshold would no longer be oblivion.

The second reason is mathematical: a “proliferation of minor parties” actually increases stability and effectiveness, by increasing the number of possible majority coalitions, thus reducing the bargaining power of any one party.

You have more combinations, but you need more parties to agree to form a Government. I do not think a six party Government is more stable than a two party Government. Israel has shown us this many times. This is not some crazy theory – they have the empirical evidence – which is why they have raised their threshold.

We have a good example of this in the current Parliament: ACT can’t “hold the government to ransom” and demand big policy concessions because National has an alternative majority with the Maori Party. Meanwhile, the Maori Party can’t “hold the government to ransom” because the National has an alternative majority with ACT. The two parties effectively act as a check on each other’s demands.

And here I/S is just wrong, because the very thing he lauds (the ability to choose ACT or Maori) would not happen under no threshold. National would have had 55 seats, ACT 4, Maori 5 and United 1. You need 62 to govern.

Having an extra 3 or 4 kibble parties at the bottom end simply increases the balance; if one of them doesn’t like your policy, then you go to another. You’re only in trouble if they all don’t like your policy, in which case its probably well-deserved

Nope under a no threshold scenario, if even one of the kibble parties disagrees, then you’re stuck.

The other argument I have against no threshold, is it will encourage extremism. Again not just a theory – look at Israel. With no threshold you can gain a list seat with 0.4% of the vote or 10,000 supporters. Now the way you get your 10,000 votes is to come out with crazy extreme policies (for example a law change so husbands can not be charged with raping their wives) that may repeal 98% of the country but appeals to 0.4%.

And no threshold will encourage extremist parties, and reward them with a seat. And if that seat is needed to form a Government, they will then get some sort of policy win.

As I said I think one can debate a 3% v 4% v 5% threshold, but I believe a threshold is desirable and necessary.

Meanwhile, this illusion costs us in democratic terms, by effectively disenfranchising (at the last election) 6.5% of the population. DPF would probably counter that those people and their views and votes aren’t important. I disagree.

Well they always have the choice of voting for a party likely to be in Parliament. No party perfectly represents my policy views. I choose to vote for the party that I deem most able to fulfil my policy desires.

If you take the view that every person must be able to get their preferred party into Parliament, then why stop at a 120 MP house where the effective threshold is 0.4% if there is no statutory threshold. You could argue for a 500 MP House, so that even parties with 0.1% of the vote get to be represented.

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47 Responses to “Debating the Threshold”

  1. Rodders (1,790 comments) says:

    I would favour a flexible threshold, high enough to keep Winston out.
    Alternatively, change to another electoral system (which also keeps Winston out.)

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  2. Other_Andy (2,515 comments) says:

    More imprtant issues…..
    Follow up on the other recommendations of the Royal Commission.
    1. Cut the number of seats from 120 to 100.
    2. Abolish the Maori seats.

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  3. Kimble (4,417 comments) says:

    OK everyone.

    Come up with your ideas of policies that would repel 98% of the NZ voting population, but still appeal to 0.4%, potentially giving them the balance of power in NZ.

    Sorry, Phil Goff, you cant play.

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  4. Daigotsu (451 comments) says:

    I was gonna say Kim, I’d love to repeal 98% of the NZ population, starting with everybody who doesn’t party vote ACT.

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  5. Daigotsu (451 comments) says:

    Also, Idiot Savant is a fucking retarded who couldn’t argue his way out of a wet paper bag. Good on you DPF for demolishing his pathetic arguments. The sooner somebody does something about this communist piece of shit, the better.

    “Meanwhile, the Maori Party can’t “hold the government to ransom” because the National has an alternative majority with ACT. The two parties effectively act as a check on each other’s demands.”

    What a fucking bunch of shit. Jesus I/S did you not graduate kindergarten or something? Crawl back around whatever stalinist rock you came from dickweed.

    [DPF: Less personal abuse or demerits in future]

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  6. Ryan Sproull (7,060 comments) says:

    If you take the view that every person must be able to get their preferred party into Parliament, then why stop at a 120 MP house where the effective threshold is 0.4% if there is no statutory threshold. You could argue for a 500 MP House, so that even parties with 0.1% of the vote get to be represented.

    Jeez, keep going down that path and we’ll all end up having a say.

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  7. RKBee (1,344 comments) says:

    New Zealanders seem to want less MPs.. yet ask for more representation… how does that work.

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  8. SPC (5,473 comments) says:

    Is not the natural threshold that required to win one seat c.8%?

    It’s not so much the level of the threshold that needs to change, but treating all parties obtaining less than 5% the same.

    One law for all small parties receiving less than 5% (no exemption for parties winning an electorate seat) that is even-handed is where they receive only half a proportional entitlement – thus would require c1.6% of rone seat, c3.2% for 2 seats and c4.8% for 3 seats.

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  9. Grant Michael McKenna (1,157 comments) says:

    How about the number of votes in an electorate makes up the minimum required to be elected?

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  10. RJL (145 comments) says:

    – look at Israel

    If an extremist party has a small number of seats, like you say, then the other parties (with the remaining seats) are under no compulsion to compromise with the extremists. The non-extreme parties (which do make up the majority) can come to a compromise with each other. That’s what the parties in a representative democracy *should* do.

    For example, if National thinks that it can’t come to compromise with, say, both ACT and the Maori party on an issue, it can come to a compromise with the Greens or Labour instead.

    If National cannot come to a compromise with anybody then that by definition is the other parties (i.e. the majority of parties, who therefore represent the majority of NZ) agreeing to not support National. This is democracy.

    Well they always have the choice of voting for a party likely to be in Parliament.

    This attitude shows that you really have no idea what democracy is about, DPF.

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  11. mikenmild (11,246 comments) says:

    SPC
    Ok, but then a party getting 4.8% would have 3 seats and a party getting an 5% would get 3 more seats for that additional 0.2% of the vote.

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  12. David Garrett (6,786 comments) says:

    Correct me if I’m wrong someone, but wouldn’t the Bill and Ben Party have got seats last time if we had had no threshold?

    Kimble: Very easy. A Party that promised: 1) a law allowing people to do what they liked with impunity to scumbags found in their house (as happened yesterday); and 2) a binding referendum on the death penalty

    would get 100,000 votes not 10,000….

    [DPF: Yes they would have got one seat]

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  13. mikenmild (11,246 comments) says:

    David

    The internet is a wonderful thing. If the threshold was 0.4%, Bill and Ben, the Kiwi Party, and Legalise Cannabis would have been represented, with NZ Pacific and the Family Party almost there. Of course, if there were no threshold it might actually work against some midget parties – it’s easy to vote Bill and Ben for a joke only.

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  14. Andrei (2,532 comments) says:

    WE shouldn’t be worrying about what the threshold should be.

    We need to ditch MMP – it was a horrible mistake

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  15. SPC (5,473 comments) says:

    mikenmild, yeah sure but currently the difference is zero and 6, not 3 and 6. 3 improves representation of the voters substantially.

    And remember whatever lower threshold is proposed there will be someone who misses out – some party just under 4, a party just under 3. And even with no threshold – there is still the threshold of getting enough votes for 1 seat and some party will fall just short whereas another will just make it.

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  16. Daigotsu (451 comments) says:

    Particularly if the party had a policy that scumbags who steal the identities of dead babies for fun should be let off scot free, right David? I bet that’d be popular.

    [DPF: Final warning]

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  17. David Garrett (6,786 comments) says:

    Andrei: I disagree…as hard as it is listening to the tripe from the Watermelons (and they would feel just the same about ACT speeches) the reality is that 9% of the citizens voted for them…and 3.65% for us…

    I agree with RJL above (at least in part)…if the largest minority party cannot get ANYONE to support them in some particular policy that is surely democracy at work?

    Can I ask how old you are? You would not the only person old enough to remember the two party dictatorships under FPP who was in favour of it, but I am quite puzzled by people over 40 who are vehemently opposed to MMP… Muldoon was a true dictator, and literally ran the country single handed, regardless of what his cabinet thought, much less parliament…

    I remember when he finally fell, and all his cabinet were furiously distancing themselves from everything he had done…Bob Jones memorably said: “Where were McLay and all the others when these decisions were made; hiding in the toilet?”

    And imagine what Clark would have done if she had had the same unbridled power….no thanks….

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  18. David Garrett (6,786 comments) says:

    Daigotsu: another brave bastard hiding behind a pseudonym…what were you up to 27 years ago?

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  19. RKBee (1,344 comments) says:

    Mean Daigotso.. all politicians are scumbugs.. without having to steal babies identities.. mind you John Key’s is the only one smart enough to disguise it.. thats my 4%.

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  20. SPC (5,473 comments) says:

    Must be sad for some that some National Party hack who broke ACT to below 5% in 2005 now leads the party and wants to bring in SM to finish it off.

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  21. Daigotsu (451 comments) says:

    David, I’d have thought somebody who advocated life sentences wouldn’t be so committed to the idea that time heals all wounds.

    You’re the worst kind of hypocrite. You are happy to rant and rave about how other people who commit crimes are “scumbags” but when it comes to confronting your own misdeeds your first instinct is to hide them, your second instinct is to hide them less competently and your third instinct is to reel out all the same fucking excuses that murderers and rapists use. “Oh I was young, I was stupid, I’ve done my time, I’ve apologised, can’t you move on?”

    I really don’t think the fact that I use a pseudonym rather than my real name is at all germane. The fact that I don’t run for elective office on a platform that criminals should be exposed and held accountable for their crimes to the maximum extent possible, OTOH, is.

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  22. David in Chch (512 comments) says:

    RJL:

    Look at Israel indeed. For many years, the extreme parties, sometimes with only one seat in the Knesset, would hold whichever major party had the most seats to ransom to get their support. Usually this involved prescribing some very conservative religious view with which the majority of the Israeli populace did not agree.

    That sort of situation only ended when the Knesset was so hung, that the two major parties agreed to a “grand coalition”, like Labour and National getting together. While that may seem logical, the antipathy on both sides is so strong that the grand coalition in Israel did not last long. And as DPF pointed out, has led to some reforms in the Israeli system.

    So your example is severely flawed.

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  23. AG (1,820 comments) says:

    “Clark went early in 2002 due to the collapse of the Alliance as one example.”

    Really? Really??

    Sure, that’s what they said. But the fact they were over 50% in the opinion polls was perhaps a more likely reason, no?

    [DPF: I agree that Clark's stated motive may not have been genuine]

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  24. David Garrett (6,786 comments) says:

    I probably shouldnt be engaging you Daigotsu (where do they get these pseuds?)….

    I have never, to the best of my knowlege used an “excuse”… I have answered the question “why did you do it?” with the honest answer “I thought it was a bit of a lark…I didn’t think it would work”. While I now think that is a dreadful reason, 27 years ago it seemed much less so. Would “I’m not going to tell you” or “I dunno” been more satisfactory?

    Every time I have been interviewed about what I did I have said – most recently on Radio Live about ten days ago – that the only person responsible for what I did is me, and thus there is ultimately no-one else to blame for my downfall but me….

    But you haven’t answered my question: what were YOU doing 27 years ago?

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  25. Pete George (23,346 comments) says:

    We don’t have a history of small parties and individual MPs holding government to ransom, once MMP settled down small parties in coalition have allowed the major party to do a lot and they have contributed a little.

    Trying to limit small party or independent MP involvement is trying to protect us from a danger that’s never come close to being proven. We are being warned about it by the larger parties who are simply trying to protect their level of power.

    Individuals that propose high thresholds and minimum seat limits for parties, and push for FPP, do it in the hope that their preferred party has exclusive power – but that doesn’t work so well when your non-preferred party takes power.

    We should aim for the most democratic representative system possible, and only if that proves unworkable over time should we worry about tweaking it.

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  26. RKBee (1,344 comments) says:

    The most democratic representative system possible… Peoples Initiated referendum.

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  27. Andrei (2,532 comments) says:

    David Garret;
    I know where you are coming from but in FPP days I lived in a marginal electorate and that served to focus our MPs on what we were saying to them.

    I can’t imagine that that any of them would have given the finger to the electorate over the anti-smacking referendum, say, in the manner that we have seen in recent times.

    We need to weaken the power of the parties IMHO and strengthen the power of the electorate and the people they choose to represent them in the ballot box.

    i.e. Individualism not collectivism which is what MMP brings.

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  28. RKBee (1,344 comments) says:

    Want less MPs.. more representation.. Binding Peoples Initiated referendum.. Where the %age is with the people not the parties.

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  29. s.russell (1,580 comments) says:

    The Royal Commission argued for a threshold on the basis that its absence would threaten the chances of effective government. There view was that the sacrifice of proportionality this involved was reasonable in the light of the benefit of greater govt effectiveness. I agree.

    The most effective potential Govt is a dictatorship in which no compromise or negotiation is necessary. Total proportionality would potentially be chaos. There has to be a chosen mid-point, depending on how much we value democracy over effectiveness. (Yes, I know that is a gross over-simplification). A threshold can be precisely calibrated to the compromise that people decide is appropriate.

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  30. Viking2 (11,283 comments) says:

    Nope change Parliaments rules so that MP’s can and are required to rep[resent the voters in their electorate. Change the Whips power so that it exists only on matters of confidence and supply.

    That will ensure diplomacy and democracy get a look in rather than bullying and ignorance towards the voter.
    Changing MMP or going back to FPP will not achieve any change to that bullying tactic known as whipping.
    Interesting that Parliament is the only organization the has this right entrenched in their operating rules.

    A lot more smaller parties may be just what is required to dismantle this bullying arrangement.
    And that’s what it is. Its interesting to note as well that as far as I can tell there are only two parties that make extensive use of Whipping followed by a third that uses it when it suits them. That one came to greif recently and caused the formation of another party.

    Get your thinking caps on and think about this.

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  31. Nichlemn (63 comments) says:

    I don’t think being “beholden to extremist parties” is as big a deal as DPF and others make. As RJL points out, it’s not as if there are no other options other than to deal with extremist parties. In Germany, for instance, The Left (former Communists) regularly wins many seats in federal and state legislatures, yet never participates in governments because other parties form grand coalitions (e.g. at the federal level from 2005-2009) or unorthodox coalitions (e.g. CDU/Green in Hamburg from 2008-2011). There is a 5% threshold there, but that doesn’t detract from the fact there is evidence that a party can apparently hold the “balance of power” but be completely marginalised.

    However, I oppose a zero threshold for other reasons. It can result in exceptionally enlongated negotiation times (for instance, four months to form a government after the 2010 Dutch election) and perhaps most importantly, allows for parties to shirk responsibility. The latter is the part most likely to be downplayed by ultra-democratic types, because they tend to have overly optimistic views of the civic-mindedness of the average voter. If voters had perfect knowledge, they could punish parties for indiscretions, but the more parties there are the more confusing it becomes, and hence the more likely it is that politicians can act contrary to popular opinion.

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  32. leftyliberal (642 comments) says:

    Agreed Viking2 – the whipping seen the last few terms in particular is definitely over the top. Confidence and supply only seems reasonable to me.

    Personally I definitely want the electoral exemption gone, simply because it distorts proportionality. I’m quite happy to still have a threshold so that silliness is kept to a minimum (bill and ben party for instance) but it doesn’t necessarily have to be as high as 5%. I’d be quite happy with it at a point where it allows 2 seat parties but not 1 seat parties.

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  33. nasska (10,917 comments) says:

    Daigotsu @ 4.50pm

    In the couple of years I’ve spent reading & commentating on blogs I reckon I’ve seen more absolute vindictiveness than I had in the previous sixty. You however take the biscuit.

    Your attacks on David Garrett are unwarranted & vicious…..he has been in front of a Court of Justice over the matter, he lost his Parliamentary career when details were made public & yet you seem to think he has abrogated his right to an opinion on matters in which he has expertise. When he entered parliament he did so as Act’s justice spokesman & rightly or wrongly pushed for legislation which was part of his party’s public platform.

    You may not agree with the legislation but it was passed into law & if you think it should be repealed then I’m certain that you know how these things are accomplished. Meanwhile, how long do you think David Garret should spend before you consider that he has atoned for his sins?

    Ten years? Twenty five? Maybe the term of his natural life for the heinous crime of identity theft? Sack cloth & ashes & a public scourging before he is allowed to voice his thoughts on anything?

    Get a life.

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  34. Daigotsu (451 comments) says:

    David, my pseudonym is Japanese and means “Great fingers”. I use it due to an in-joke with a Japanese friend.

    As for what I was doing 27 years ago, I was at kindergarten.

    Thanks for your interest in my personal life!

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  35. Daigotsu (451 comments) says:

    And to be honest David, it’s your behaviour before your conviction came to light in the public eye that concerns me. You concealed it from the ACT party when you chose to stand as a candidate. Where was all this newfound honesty then?

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  36. Griff (7,008 comments) says:

    Don’t feed the troll

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  37. Viking2 (11,283 comments) says:

    Oh the self righteous!
    you are a spoilt pratt Disgustu.

    Not yet 30 and without sin.
    Yeh right.Go change your nappies they stink. (along with your attitude.)

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  38. Graeme Edgeler (3,277 comments) says:

    The other argument I have against no threshold, is it will encourage extremism. Again not just a theory – look at Israel. With no threshold you can gain a list seat with 0.4% of the vote or 10,000 supporters.

    1. Israel has a threshold.
    2. Israel has always had a threshold.

    Israel’s threshold in their 120 seat Knesset started at 1%, increased later to 1.5%, and has now gone up to 2%.

    If you want to assess the extremism of having no threshold, you’ll actually have to look at a system with no threshold, such as Portugal, South Africa, Finland, the Netherlands, Macedonia, Scotland or Wales. Probably doesn’t look so bad.

    The reason Israeli politics is divided is because Israel is divided, and not the other way round. New Zealand isn’t like Israel, so it’s unlikely that moving toward one aspect of the Israeli political system would have the same effects here as there.

    It’s possible that an extremist party might get a seat in New Zealand under a zero threshold, but it likely wouldn’t matter:

    1. everyone would refuse to work with them, and unless the other parties decided to give them power, they wouldn’t have any (which is what has happened in Europe, for the most part). ref: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cordon_sanitaire#Electoral_politics
    2. We probably wouldn’t have it so that ~0.4% of the vote was enough for a seat. The Royal Commission recommended that if we had a zero threshold that we should use a modified Sainte-Laguë to make it more difficult to get that first seat. I imagine this would happen – pushing the needed vote much closer to the 0.833% needed to “earn” a seat.

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  39. Graeme Edgeler (3,277 comments) says:

    @David Garrett: Correct me if I’m wrong someone, but wouldn’t the Bill and Ben Party have got seats last time if we had had no threshold?

    Kinda right.

    If we had no threshold, and kept the same system for divvying up the seats that we use now, then Bill would have been elected.

    However, if we had no threshold, we probably wouldn’t use the system we use now, so they probably wouldn’t.

    The Royal Commission recommended the Sainte-Laguë system we use now, but also recommended that if we didn’t have a threshold that we should use a modified form of it: they said so that a party would need ~25,000 votes for their first seat (though I’m pretty sure they got their numbers wrong).

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  40. Graeme Edgeler (3,277 comments) says:

    More imprtant issues…..
    Follow up on the other recommendations of the Royal Commission.
    1. Cut the number of seats from 120 to 100.
    2. Abolish the Maori seats.

    1. The Royal Commission recommended the increase to 120 seats!
    2. The Royal Commission only recommended the abolition of the Maori seats if we adopted MMP and had a rule that parties that represented Maori interests didn’t have to pass the threshold.*

    *they didn’t define parties that represent Maori interests

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  41. Graeme Edgeler (3,277 comments) says:

    We need to weaken the power of the parties IMHO and strengthen the power of the electorate and the people they choose to represent them in the ballot box.

    i.e. Individualism not collectivism which is what MMP brings.

    We had the collectivism under FPP too: there was the occasional standout – Marilyn Waring, Winston Peters, Jim Anderton – but for the most part everyone went with the flow. Even people as left as Helen Clark voted for Rogernomics in the House, and everyone in National went along with Rob Muldoon.

    If you want to weaken the power of parties then you want STV, preferably with largish electorates: the parties will still be there, obviously, but it will be up to voters which MPs are elected from those parties (which isn’t the case under the other systems).

    Under FPP, you pretty much had to vote for National or Labour if you wanted your vote to count, and you had to vote for whoever the party put up: the only way of getting rid of an MP you didn’t like from the party you did like was to vote for the other guys, which a lot of people wouldn’t do.

    Under STV, the major parties have to put up multiple candidates in each electorate, so you get to choose who represents you, and if there’s a Labour candidate you detest, you can support Labour without supporting them, etc.

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  42. nasska (10,917 comments) says:

    Graeme Edgeler

    Thanks for your opinions.

    STV has to be the way to go but explaining how it works to people who can’t get their heads around MMP would be the challenge.

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  43. David in Chch (512 comments) says:

    Nichlemn (29) at 6:01 pm and Graeme E: Useful comments. Thank you. I would also add Belgium to your list of examples, but there are other factors at play there. Cheers.

    Daihatsu – not so useful

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  44. Graeme Edgeler (3,277 comments) says:

    STV has to be the way to go but explaining how it works to people who can’t get their heads around MMP would be the challenge.

    You don’t need to understand how it works.

    Put a number 1 next to your favourite candidate, a 2 next to your second favourite candidate etc. That’s all people *need* to know.

    Most people didn’t understand FPP either. The number of people who remember voting for that “nice Mr Lange” despite never having visited Mangere, let alone lived there, shows that even a rudimentary understanding of electoral law just isn’t necessary for a democracy to function.

    Even the Electoral Commission doesn’t seem to understand the full detail of STV. The ads explaining each of the systems haven’t started airing on TV yet, but are up on youtube. The STV one is wrong (on a pretty minor detail for sure, but still), but in the grand scheme of things, does this matter? No.

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  45. reid (16,111 comments) says:

    STV has to be the way to go but explaining how it works to people who can’t get their heads around MMP would be the challenge.

    Not at all nasska, we just won’t let them have a vote by making everyone sit a surprise exam just beforehand.

    It’s easy and more importantly, predictable.

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  46. louie (92 comments) says:

    Any system that gets the Greens out is the way to go. Happy to see ACT off it that is the price.

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  47. CrazyIvan (88 comments) says:

    Viking2 at 5.59pm

    I like that idea, but you’d have to move to an electorate only system for that to work (as any list MPs would likely be beholden to the party anyway which negates the relaxing of whipping). There is still the risk of individual MPs holding off their votes in exchange for benefits to their electorates/pet projects in a tight Parliament but it probably wouldn’t be too bad. Last thing I’d like to see is the current situation in the US, where earmarks (which can exist outside confidence and supply) become the order of the day to get anything passed.

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