MMP Symposium Part II

No Right Turn has blogged all the speeches from last night, including links to some of the papers for those interested in electoral issues.

Raymond Miller was especially interesting, on how by 2011 36% of voters will have known nothing but MMP. His paper had lots of polling data about attitudes to MMP broken down by various demographics.

Constitutional Law expert Professor Philip Joseph is now speaking on future constitutional challenges. He is outling five changes under MMP.

  1. Indirect election of Governments. The public used to effectively elect the Government, and it would be known within a couple of hours of election night. Now the effect is to elect a Parliament and Parliament spends a few weeks negotiating a Government. He emphaised this means the public are often surprised by the Government that emerges such as Nat/NZF in 1996 and in 2005 Labour campaigned with the Greens but ended up appointing Peters and Dunne as Ministers – something no-one would have expected before the election.
  2. Government formation. Only in 1999 was the shape of the Government known on the night as Labour and Alliance got 63 seats on election night and had said they would go into coalition together. Ironically they shrank to 59 seats when the Greens later qualified for representation.
  3. Minority coalition Government. Four of the five coalition Governments have been minority Governments. Only National-NZF was a majority Government.
  4. Collective responsibility. MMP has shown that collective responsibility is not a constitutional convention but merely a rule of pragmatic politics.
  5. Government and Opposition reconfigured. These labels are more flexible now.

Joseph then touched on the issue of the Maori seats. He asserted that retaining the seats will inflate the parliamentary representation of Maori beyond their relative population base and will create a permament overhang that will skew MMP proportionality.

Professor Joseph pointed out there are currently 22 MPs of Maori descent, representing 19% of Parliament – well above the 14% of the general population that Maori comprise. Eliminating the Maori seats would have Maori make up 12.4% of Parliament, only 1.4% below their population share and hethinks the 2008 election will see even that small gap disappear – without relying on the Maori seats.

He also touched on the possibility of overhang in the Maori seats leading to a situation where National might get 50.1% of the vote, but be unable to form a Government due to the increased size of Parliament. This would create considerable resentment and a backlash.

Another challenge Joseph alluded to is that one day there will not be enough list seats to ensure proportionality. So long as the NI populations grows faster than the SI, then every five years the number of electorate seats will increase, and the number of list seats diminish. Already under MMP the number of list seats has fallen from 55 to 50.

Three solutions are identified:

  1. Increase the size of the House to greater than 120
  2. Abolish the Maori seats, and have seven more list seats
  3. Reduce the number of electorates, which will increase the size of the largest electorates considerably

Finally Joseph looks at whether MMP will survive in light of National’s referendum pledge. He thinks it will as he doubts National will get the numbers in Parliament, even if they form the Government, to have the referenda.

Nigel Roberts is now talking on the alternatives to MMP. He is doing what I in fact did on my blog some weeks ago, and look at what would have been the results of the four MMP elections if done under MMP.

Roberts identified five problems with MMP as he sees it:

  1. One seat threshold
  2. Treating minor parties and independents differently
  3. Overhang
  4. Closed Lists
  5. Backdoor MPs

He pointed out you can fix these without a referendum – only need for changing the system.

Says one seat threshold is unfair. Christian Coalition got no seats on 4.3% in 1996 yet NZ First got five seats on 4.3% in 1999.

With issue 5, could do as in Wales and people can be an electorate candidate or list candidate – but not both.

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