A four year term

The Herald editorial yesterday:

Saturday’s referendum on the electoral system did more than just embed MMP, subject to the tinkering recommended by an Electoral Commission review. It also, by implication, enhanced the case for the to be increased from three to four years.

The argument against this has always been that in a country with few constitutional restraints on the power of the Executive, a short term affords the electorate one strong means of restraint.

If proportional representation promised to be an equally effective safeguard, its popularity had yet to be confirmed. Now, with the substantiation of MMP’s broad acceptance, the time is right to reconsider a four-year term.

I have long supported a four year term. A three year term is almost unique to New Zealand and Australia. It may sound ironic coming from me, but a longer term means that a new Government can concentrate on doing what is right, without worrying about the polls because the next election is further away,

Of course as a pollster, annual elections would be great 🙂

The thought is not new. In the most recent referendum on the subject, in 1990, 69.3 per cent of those who voted opposed the notion. That rejection must, however, be placed in context. It was held at the tail-end of a two-term Labour Government whose disdain for the public view led eventually to the introduction of MMP.

In hindsight, it is a pity that a referendum on a four year term wasn’t held last weekend. I think it would have won.

The topic will be examined by the constitutional review panel set up in August at the behest of the Maori Party. But, after gauging public opinion, it is not due to make its recommendations on this and an array of other issues until September 2013.

There is good reason to hold a referendum well before then.

I don’t think it is a good idea to do an early referendum. The cost of a stand alone referendum will put some New Zealanders off, and it also means that any recommendation is considered in isolation. If the review also recommends that the dates of elections be fixed (not set by the PM), this could make a four year term more attractive.

The other thing I would do, if there is a referendum, is have any change apply to the term after the next term of Parliament. That way there is no suggestion of self-interest by those politicians supporting a four year term. So if there is a referendum in 2014, the next term of Parliament will be 2014 – 2017 and it is the term after that (2017 – 2021) that would be four years.

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