The politics of the proposed MMP changes

August 15th, 2012 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

I missed 10,000 Green votes in 2011 when calculating the election outcomes based on the recommendations. In fact it is , not Greens, who would lose one seat.

Putting aside the principled issues, this makes the changes politically very scary for National. Without being too dramatic, it is quite possible that National would never have formed a Government since 1993, under the proposed law changes.

  • In 1996 a major reasons why NZ First went with National was that National and NZ First could govern with 61 votes, while Labour and NZ First would also need the Alliance and Peters did not want the Alliance having a veto. If National lost that advantage of being able to  solely with NZ First, Peters could well have chosen Labour.
  • In 2008, the CR parties would drop from 64 to 58 seats. The Maori Party and NZ First would hold the balance of power. People forget the Maori Party has never ever chosen National over Labour. They have only gone with National in a situation where a Labour-led Government was not possible. In 2008, Helen Clark would have offered a lot to the Maori Party to retain office – arguably more than National could.
  • In 2011, it would be like 2008, with the Maori Party holding the balance of power, and they could well choose Labour over National considering they vote with them more often in the House.

So looking backwards, National MPs will be wondering why the hell would they vote for a law change which might have seen 18 years of Labour-led Government. I suspect they see it as a long suicide note.

However they should be careful not to assume the past is the future.

Removing the one electorate threshold only has an impact is a political party can get 1.2% party vote or higher. I have doubts that ACT or United Future can do so, in a sustainable fashion. Mana though is more likely to make 1.2% with non green disaffected lefties defect from Labour. So removing the one electorate threshold may impact the left more.

Likewise on lowering the party vote threshold from 5% to 4%. On the left the Greens look set to stay well above 5% and Mana unlikely to make 4% or 5%. A 4% threshold does make it easier for NZ First to stay on, but they are unlikely to survive long-term once Peters retires or dies. So not that much benefit for the left in 4%.

On the right, National faces an existence without ACT or United Future. The Conservatives got 2.7%. Them making 5% is a hard call, but 4% is more achievable. I hope ACT survives, but if it does not that will leave room on the political spectrum for a new “liberal” party. They would struggle to make 5% but again 4% could be more achievable for them.

So while on past election results the changes would be a disaster for National, they might be beneficial in the future. From a pure self-interest point of view, National should very carefully consider the future as well as the past.

Now personally I support the three recommended changes on the basis of improving , by reducing tactical game playing. But all political parties in Parliament will be looking at them from a viewpoint of “Does it make it more or less likely this will help us form Government”. That is to be expected as you can’t implement the policies that you think are good for New Zealand unless you actually get into Government.

It is clear that the changes would not have been good for National in the past. However in the future I think on balance of probabilities they would be – in the long term.

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30 Responses to “The politics of the proposed MMP changes”

  1. Ryan Sproull (7,109 comments) says:

    It’s not hard to believe that at least 4% of voting New Zealanders are so opposed to marriage equality that they would vote for the CCCP on principle.

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  2. rolla_fxgt (311 comments) says:

    I still think the recommendations of the Commission are very tame, and maybe that reflects on the conservatism of the commission in any decision it makes. The threshold should have been around the 3% mark vs the recommended 5%, and I don’t believe their given reasoning, that it would effectively change the MMP system the public voted to keep. The percentage could be anything between effective zero and 10-12% and still maintain proportionality, to a reasonable level. And as the commission themselves said, proportionality doesn’t start to become an issue untill the electorate seats reach 76, sometime around 2026, so I’m not sure why they are okay with that, but not okay with reducing the party vote percentage lower than 4%.

    I also don’t agree with the removal of the one seat rule, and think that it wouldn’t have been removed if the review had been held after any of the other recent elections. MMP was based upon the German system, and basically scaled to suit our parliament size, so I can’t see why they Commission is happy to fiddle with this, and remove one of the key features of MMP that enables small groups to gain representation, when they are uncomfortable fiddling with other features. The status quo rewarded small parties that had strong support in a small geographic area, as well as some support outside this area, and recognised that parties in this situation had to focus their limited resources more on the electorate that was their lifeline into the house, rather than spreading it thinly across the country as a whole. And if you know or think someone from one of these parties is going to win an electorate seat, why would you bother giving them your party vote? It would just be an entirely wasted vote. So basically all the Commission is doing is saying they want a greater number of wasted votes.
    If I was cynical I would say that the less votes they have to count the less work for them on election night.
    If the Commission wants to remove this on seat rule, then they should also make change to the party vote calculations, so that parties that have little concentrated support, but still manage to get a party vote above the threshold loose 1 seat entitlement for every 10 or so MP’s their PV entitles them too, sort of to even up the balance back to what it was, rather than favouring PV only parties as it currently does.

    Basically the review if it is implemented does what the EFA failed to achieve, screw the scrum further in favour of the left leaning parties, while screwing over right leaning ones. It disenfranchises my vote, because I know that regardless of who I vote for on the right, it won’t lead to them being able to form a government.
    End reuslt is that I just won’t bother to vote as it will become a waste of time.

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  3. davidp (3,581 comments) says:

    The way MMP works is that you form a coalition of small parties that each promise some sort of benefit to their special interest supporters. Your coalition needs 51% of vote winning parties, then the losing 49% of voters get to pay the special interests the loot they’ve been promised in their coalition agreements. It’s a system that can only ever end in a Greek-style meltdown where the special interests take over the economy and then milk it until the money runs out.

    I feel generally pretty gloomy about NZ’s prospects long term.

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  4. Pete George (23,558 comments) says:

    Both Natioanl and Labour would benefit from dropping the threshold to 3% (further would be better but that’s as low as can realistically be expected).

    More small parties gives the large parties more options, and spreads the power more..

    If WP retires or carks it then it’s feasible we are left National, Labour, Greens Conservatives, with maybe a small number of single MP parties who most terms won’t have much if any influence. NZF in the mix could be worse.

    Large parties dream of one party rule but the electorate makes it clear they don’t want that.

    So more parties, more options. And more democracy – and that should be the primary consideration.

    http://yournz.org/2012/08/15/strong-case-for-3-mmp-threshold/

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  5. Graeme Edgeler (3,289 comments) says:

    Your coalition needs 51% of vote winning parties, then the losing 49% of voters get to pay the special interests the loot they’ve been promised in their coalition agreements. It’s a system that can only ever end in a Greek-style meltdown where the special interests take over the economy and then milk it until the money runs out.

    I realise it’s not exactly what you were saying, but I thought I’d offer some information on the Greek Electoral System:

    While based around proportional representation, the system has a winner’s bonus, designed to ensure that the party with the most votes has a good chance of being able to govern alone. In the 300 member Parliament, 250 seats are divided up basically proportionally, and the last 50 seats are all given to the party with the most votes over and above what their proportion of the vote entitles them out of 250. Under current settings, this mean that any party which wins, and has at least 39% of the vote, will be pretty much be guaranteed a parliamentary majority on its own.

    Translated to New Zealand, the 2011 election results might this have meant that National’s ~47% of the vote would have netted them 49 of the 100 proportional seats, plus the 20 bonus seats for a total of 69 seats, and a clear majority.

    There are a multitude of causes for the problems Greece faces, but an electoral system designed to ensure minority government with lots of political parties needed to form government is not among them. I suspect very much that you will find that the currently fractured Greek Parliament is caused *by* the troubles they have, and not the cause *of* them.

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  6. cctrfred (42 comments) says:

    Has anyone considered that the Greens may prefer an arrangement with National rather than a messy coalition with Labour/Mana/NZFirst/Maori Party if National ends up as the largest party after an election?

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  7. davidp (3,581 comments) says:

    Graeme E>There are a multitude of causes for the problems Greece faces

    I wasn’t blaming the Greek situation on their electoral system, because up until two minutes ago I had no idea what their system was. In general, however, Greece is a country where vested interests rule and take the country for whatever they can get without any regard to the long term consequences. The worst group is probably their public servants. But you could also include any group that has negotiated themselves the right to retire at age 50 or 55 or whatever they have these days. If you’re Joe Average you work till a reasonable retirement age. If you’re a member of a union that can bring the country to a halt, or can afford to spread around some bribes, then you get super-early retirement and you hope that Germans will pick up the bill some time in the future.

    The worst offender in NZ is NZ First. They only seem to have two reasons to exist: 1. Peters’ ego. 2. To obtain increased benefits for their voters, whether it be the racing industry or superannuatants. MMP allows 11 parties to each win 5% of the vote by appealing to a narrow group of self-interested voters, form a government, and have a spend up without regard to the long term. That isn’t sustainable, because we don’t have any Germans.

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  8. Weihana (4,537 comments) says:

    davidp (2,415) Says:
    August 15th, 2012 at 10:38 am

    The way MMP works is that you form a coalition of small parties that each promise some sort of benefit to their special interest supporters. Your coalition needs 51% of vote winning parties, then the losing 49% of voters get to pay the special interests the loot they’ve been promised in their coalition agreements. It’s a system that can only ever end in a Greek-style meltdown where the special interests take over the economy and then milk it until the money runs out.

    I feel generally pretty gloomy about NZ’s prospects long term.

    Well the two most prominent small parties that failed to obtain representation in parliament at the 2011 election were the conservative party and the legalize cannabis party. How does “traditional” marriage or hitting one’s child require 49% to cough up money? How does legalizing cannabis require money? Indeed it will save a lot of money.

    Moreover, it was one of the major parties that instituted working for families, interest free loans, and indeed there is a broad consensus in NZ politics on keeping our social welfare state. Even the right, while tightening up social welfare, still supports keeping a safety net and for the most part our social spending remains as it has been. So your argument seems somewhat tenuous at best.

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  9. Weihana (4,537 comments) says:

    MMP allows 11 parties to each win 5% of the vote by appealing to a narrow group of self-interested voters, form a government, and have a spend up without regard to the long term. That isn’t sustainable, because we don’t have any Germans.

    Has that happened? And what’s the difference if all those special interests coalesce within one party?

    Surely MMP should not be judged on the performance of NZ 1st.

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  10. david (2,557 comments) says:

    Lipstick on a pig

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  11. Richard29 (377 comments) says:

    @Rolla
    “MMP was based upon the German system, and basically scaled to suit our parliament size, so I can’t see why they Commission is happy to fiddle with this, and remove one of the key features of MMP that enables small groups to gain representation”
    The key difference with these provisions is that with the the 600+ seat German Budestag a party has to get 5% or 3 electorate seats. The scaling effect to reduce it to one seat has opening the door to parties that are driven my single political personalities rather than genuine political movements.
    Just try and think of the current Act party, United Future, Mana or the Progressives trying to win two or three electorates – very unlikely to happen, their support is just not that widespread.

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  12. Graeme Edgeler (3,289 comments) says:

    Just try and think of the current Act party, United Future, Mana or the Progressives trying to win two or three electorates – very unlikely to happen, their support is just not that widespread.

    We have 70 electorates. Germany has 300. I agree that it is unlikely that the scenario you give will happen if we stay with the same number of electorates as we currently have, but if we had more than four times as many, I wouldn’t rule it out. If we suddenly had 31 Maori seats (which is how many there would be if we had 300 electorates), I can easliy imagine Mana winning more than one of them.

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  13. Pete George (23,558 comments) says:

    Anyway, National, Labour, Greens and all the other parties should be putting democracy first, foremost and final on this. If any issue should be free of political self interest it should be this one.

    Of course large parties want large parties to have even more of an advantage. Of course supporters of large parties want their parties to rule. So most people will favour what favours large parties.

    Unless they are serious about fairness in democracy. On this they should be. We need to make sure they are.

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  14. Alan Johnstone (1,087 comments) says:

    “A 4% threshold does make it easier for NZ First to stay on, but they are unlikely to survive long-term once Peters retires or dies. So not that much benefit for the left in 4%.”

    Surely the important question is where do these votes go ? There is a core constituency of “economic nationalists” that doesn’t fit well with any of the other parties, I’d imagine that Colin Craig will make them his key target; the CPNZ is very much a NZF rehash in policy terms, it just lacks the nous of winston

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  15. rolla_fxgt (311 comments) says:

    @Richard29

    I know the German system is huge, thats why I said our was a scaled system of the german one, read Geoffrey Millers submission on it to the Commission if you want more detail about the German system (he does it more justice than I ever could), and the original thinking on the MMP system by the Royal Commission. But as Graeme E points out, they have 300 electorates, we have 70, so proportionally we’re the same, well actually it should mean we have 1/2 a seat ( I think I worked it out and it was 0.67 of a seat, but close enough anyway), but since that’s impossible, 1 is the nearest number.
    Thus ACT, UF, Mana winning 1 seat is exactly what the system was designed to reward (proportionally to scale of the German system).

    @Graeme E
    Thankfully we don’t have 300 electorates, or 31 Maori seats, that would really lead to fractured parties, and small minority parties and candidates getting in. I’m not to sure parliament would be around long before the masses locked them in and set fire to it if we did!

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  16. Alan Johnstone (1,087 comments) says:

    “It’s not hard to believe that at least 4% of voting New Zealanders are so opposed to marriage equality that they would vote for the CCCP on principle.”

    No, but it’s utterly irrelevant in terms of the next election; the current bill will pass or die by Christmas, at that point the issue is decided for a generation if it’s a “no” and for ever more if it’s a “yes”

    If the act becomes law and 1 gay couple marry, that’s it. You can’t retrospectively un-marry them afterwards. What’s done is done. It’s there forever.

    So, it has zero electoral currency, expect perhaps as a stick to punish mps that voted for it. Even then i think it’ll be 18 months old and a forgotten issue.

    I’m sure Colin Craig will have moved onto something else like denying the existence of dinosaurs by then :>

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  17. Weihana (4,537 comments) says:

    Alan Johnstone,

    “If the act becomes law and 1 gay couple marry, that’s it. You can’t retrospectively un-marry them afterwards.”

    Why not?

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  18. minto57 (197 comments) says:

    Mariage equality whats that.
    Some gay spin on a word?
    Sounds like an edict from the Ministry of Love.

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  19. Alan Johnstone (1,087 comments) says:

    Because you can’t put the shit back in the donkey.

    How do go about un-marrying someone ?

    What happens to them ? do they become single ? converted into a civil union ?

    What about kids etc ?

    When it’s done, it’s done.

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  20. Weihana (4,537 comments) says:

    Richard29,

    …parties that are driven my single political personalities rather than genuine political movements

    Who decides what constitutes a “genuine” political movement? Why can’t individual personalities advance the political objectives of a group of people? To say it’s not “genuine” doesn’t that simply reflect one’s own political bias?

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  21. Weihana (4,537 comments) says:

    Alan Johnstone,

    You just pass a law that ceases to recognize those unions. It’s pretty easy in this case since the word marriage doesn’t convey any additional rights except adoption. And if a gay couple adopts surely the state can discontinue recognising their relationship as a “marriage” and that wouldn’t affect the adoption which was valid at the time it was made. If a straight couple which has adopted gets divorced, surely that doesn’t nullify the adoption, it just raises an issue of custody.

    Not sure why I’m arguing this… but theoretically it could be done it seems to me. Practically probably very unlikely. Most people will realize the Earth didn’t explode, god’s wrath hasn’t come, and life goes on as normal.

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  22. barry (1,317 comments) says:

    OK – so the changes dont look good for National – and although I support the supposed ethos of National I think its a good thing to make them think again.
    Nationals belief that they have to encompass the centre and let the edgy part of the right go screw themselves only results in more votes leaking out to the right.
    Which means NZ First and Conservative have a great future………

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  23. s.russell (1,640 comments) says:

    The abolition of the piggyback clause is justified on pure theory and principle. But I also think it will be a net positive for National.

    After two elections in which United Future has failed to secure enough votes for a second MP it is clear that this is unlikley even to recur, but the possibility helps right-leaning voters to choose UF. Dunne’s presence in Parliament is a gain for National, but one that does not rely on the piggyback. So in respect of UF National gains nothing from the clause and its abolition might help it claw back a few votes – and maybe even encourage UF to give up and close down.

    I think it is pretty clear that Act has become a net negative for National. Though Banks’ success in Epsom gained the right one seat on paper (same as Dunne), the dealing required to arrange that cost National far more votes than this was worth. Without the irritation this generated (exacerbated by the teapot fiasco) it is unlikely NZ First would have cracked the 5% threshold. National might even have snared 50% of the vote and regardless, the absence of NZ First from Parliament would have secured National an outright majority.

    Act could still revive, making the piggyback clause a positive again, but frankly, souffles seldom rise twice and it is most likely Act is finished as a political force – in which case it is better to put it out of its misery.

    The Conservatives do not have an electorate seat, and are unlikely to get one, so the piggyback clause is no help for National there either.

    In each of those cases those abolition of the piggyback clause should help National claw back a few votes, as voting for any of them will be a clear waste of a vote (unless they start polling near the threshold!).

    So what about reducing the threshold? I think that is not so helpful for National at all. A 4% threshold would pretty much entrench the presence of NZ First (and anyone who expects Peters to conveniently retire is dreaming – he’ll stay till he’s 98). NZ First has always been able to get 4% – even in 99 and 08 after their worst episides. But 5% is harder – NZF has twice failed to hit that mark.

    As for the Conservatives – the danger is that a lower threshold will encourage people who would otherwise vote National to vote Conservative, but without taking them over the edge. Though the Christian Coalition got there (just) in ’96 that was at a time when National was extremely weak. Craig has proved just as nutty as they were and his hard-right economic positions limit his appeal to the NZ First constituency that National would like to see him win over. The Conservatives thus seem unlikley therefore to attract votes from anywhere but National – and that does not help at all.

    Ergo, my recommendation to National is to back the abolition of the piggyback clause, but not the reduction in the threshold. Labour will vote with National on the piggyback issue and NZ First will vote with National on the threshold, so National should win its way on both issues. It will get kudos from the public over the piggyback clause (the public mostly hate it). That will insulate National from charges of self-interest, while National has a legitimate argument re stability on the threshold issue (where public support for a lowering is weaker anyway).

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  24. Pete George (23,558 comments) says:

    Ergo, my recommendation to National is to back the abolition of the piggyback clause, but not the reduction in the threshold. Labour will vote with National on the piggyback issue and NZ First will vote with National on the threshold, so National should win its way on both issues. It will get kudos from the public over the piggyback clause (the public mostly hate it). That will insulate National from charges of self-interest, while National has a legitimate argument re stability on the threshold issue (where public support for a lowering is weaker anyway).

    For a start, your recommendation is full of self interest. It’s all about what’s seen as best for national, with a total disregard for what is best for our way of doing democracy. That stinks.

    And National doesn’t have a legitimate argument re stability on the threshold issue. Unless they try and claim that…
    National+Winston, or
    National+Craig, or
    National+Winston+Craig, or
    Maori Party holding the balance of power
    …would be more stable than this and the last coalitions.

    If National approaches changes to our democratic system with total self interest as suggested then they deserve a good kick in the electoral goolies.

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  25. PaulL (5,981 comments) says:

    For me, on a principle perspective. The logic is to try to avoid crazy extremism. In general we want people’s votes to be represented in parliament, but only if they can demonstrate either that they have wide geographic support totally a significant proportion of the population (currently 1 in 20, and suggested to change to 1 in 25, people supporting them), or they have strong localised support (they can win an electorate seat).

    I think both of these remain good principles.

    On that basis:
    1. Change to 4%. I don’t like Winston. But I reckon if you can get 4% of NZ to vote for you (one out of every 25 people), you probably deserve representation in parliament. Lowering this will help new parties to form, and we need some dynamism in our system.

    2. Keep the 1 seat “piggyback.” Again seems to me that if you can get enough local support to win a seat, then your party probably deserves representation. We can argue about the actual parties (say NZ First), but that’s an argument that you don’t like them, rather than whether or not they deserve representation.

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  26. s.russell (1,640 comments) says:

    Pete,
    The post was on the politics of the MMP changes, rather than the principles, so that is what I focused on. My “recommendation” was thus what I would say to National if I were one of their Machiavellian advisers.

    As it happens I support those two recommendations on grounds of principle as well – and advocated them in my submission to the review. I do not blame you for assuming my advocacy was partisan, but actually it was not.

    I agree there is room to disagree about exactly what the threshold should be, but since stability is the fundamental reason for having a threshold in the first place I think it fair to argue that maintaining a tougher standard (5%) is a principled argument – one that even Winston (whom I loathe) supports.

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  27. Alan Wilkinson (1,878 comments) says:

    There is one good reason to promote and team with Winston, and that is to hatchet the Waitangi industry and the Maori seats. It would be worth suffering three years of him just to achieve that.

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  28. Inky_the_Red (759 comments) says:

    DPF be realistic. If you use your logic Gordon Brown would now be PM in the UK with a coalition of Labour, Lib Dem, SNP, PC and Democratic Unionists.

    In the real world coalitions are normally formed with the least number of parties.

    The fact as long as the Nats get more than 40% of the vote they will have a chance to form government.

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  29. Weihana (4,537 comments) says:

    For me, on a principle perspective. The logic is to try to avoid crazy extremism. In general we want people’s votes to be represented in parliament, but only if they can demonstrate either that they have wide geographic support totally a significant proportion of the population (currently 1 in 20, and suggested to change to 1 in 25, people supporting them), or they have strong localised support (they can win an electorate seat).

    Crazy extremism? Let’s refer back to the facts once again. Conservative party. Is pro smacking and anti gay marriage “crazy extremism”? Legalize cannabis party. Many polls show liberalization to have wide spread support if not majority support, but it simply not a priority for most hence their poll results.

    Arguably the libertarians are extreme but they barely even register on the political radar.

    In any case if we are talking about principles then democracy is about representing the whole country, not a subset. The fact that government requires a majority of parliament demands moderation between larger and smaller parties so even if so-called extreme parties are represented their influence requires the consent of others so it does not follow that representation for so-called extreme parties equates to extreme government.

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  30. rg (214 comments) says:

    If you want ACT to survive , what on earth are you doing supporting National?
    National is hardly centre right anymore, whereas ACT still does believe in individual responsibility. We need a party with principles, National cretainly hasn’t any left.

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