The Press on MMP referendum

The Press editorial looks at MMP:

The voting system has had ample time to bed in and voters have had enough experience to make a judgment about its future. This is why a fresh referendum on the electoral system, as advocated by National leader John Key, would be timely.

Many New Zealanders firmly believe that when MMP was introduced there was to be another referendum after the system had been trialled. This is actually not correct, as all that was promised was a review by a parliamentary select committee and this was done.

I am amazed that some people advocate that the people can not be trusted to vote on what electoral system we use. It is the worse sort of elitism.

In some respects the system has been a success. Parliament is far more diverse in terms of minor parties, there are more Maori and female MPs and governments now find it more difficult to ram through unpopular legislation.

And every vote now counts, which is good.

However, these apparently positive features have come at a price. MMP governments have been dependent on deal-making with minnow parties, which wield an influence disproportionate to their size and have the ability to hamstring administrations with their demands and frustrate good governance.

This is the major problem – not that minor parties get representation and influence. But that they have disproportionate influence.

Among the MMP lowlights was the unedifying spectacle in 1996 of New Zealand First conducting a political auction for weeks before opting for National. When that coalition collapsed voters were disenchanted by the unseemly sight of a lame-duck National being propped up by waka-jumpers, such as the former Alliance MP Alamein Kopu.

Today a shorthand for MMP’s failings is NZ First leader Winston Peters holding the coveted post of foreign affairs minister but not being in Cabinet. Nor is Peters subject to ministerial collective responsibility outside his own narrow portfolio area, leaving this country in the astonishing position, one which will grow even more untenable as the election nears, of having a foreign minister able to criticise trade policy.

Indeed. And this sort of stuff does harm NZ. We now have a Foreign Minister who probably can never deal with China again.

Many voters are also concerned that a candidate, especially a sitting MP, can be rejected in a constituency but then slide into Parliament through the back door of the list. The rule that a party that has not won 5 per cent of the eligible party vote can still qualify for list seats on the coat-tails of an electorate winner is another aspect of MMP in need of review.

The issue of List MPs that have been rejected in an electorate is a difficult one. You could ban electorate candidates from being list candidates but that then totally undermines a party’s ability to have all candidates pushing the party vote. Also many candidates stand in a seat they have no chance of winning – is somewhat different to actually being kicked out of a seat you already hold.

The electorate seat threshold for List MPs is a real issue. It does result in highly tactical voting. If one did away with it though, you should lower the 5% threshold to 4% or arguably even lower.

Key’s proposal for an initial referendum in 2011 followed, if MMP in its present form was voted down, by another poll on the alternatives to it, will resonate with the public and should be acted on.

Agreed. A key aspect to be clarified would be how you choose the alternatives for the second referendum. And MMP would need to be an option for that second referendum.

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