Written By: Mike Smith - Date published: 8:12 pm, February 9th, 2014 - 101 comments
Categories: democracy under attack, election 2014, electoral commission, electoral systems, john key, Judith Collins, MMP, national - Tags:
John Key wants to be “transparent” about which persons or parties he will want to give the nod and wink to before this year’s election, but not yet. This emerged after close questioning from senior journalists at his press conference last Monday. It will all depend on National’s extensive polling, as he will want to shorten the odds before he comes clear near the election.
John Armstrong summarises the issues well in Saturday’s Herald. Coming clear is perhaps not quite the right way to put it – in an article headlined “Rotten smell arising from one-seat threshold”, Armstrong focuses on National’s refusal to implement the Electoral Commission’s advice on removing the one-seat threshold for allowing additional MPs into Parliament. He starts:
National’s brushing aside of Electoral Commission advice (is) an act of self-interest which diminishes our democracy
and puts his finger on the reason
The one-seat threshold survives simply because it could yet be the difference between National staying in power and going into Opposition.
and the tactics National used
National’s response to those recommendations, which had wide support from those making submissions to the review, was cunning but also predictably self-serving. Justice Minister Judith Collins loftily announced there would be no changes as the convention that there be an all-party consensus for measures altering aspects of the electoral system was lacking. This seemingly principled stance played on public ignorance by conveniently neglecting to mention it was National and Act which were blocking such a consensus.
Armstrong’s comment is
However, it seems to have dawned on the Prime Minister just how manipulative all this is beginning to look. The word “gerrymander”- one not usually associated with New Zealand’s voting system – surfaced in questions at Key’s weekly news conference on Monday.
In response, Key chose his words very carefully as he parried further questions about the likelihood and timing of accommodations. While he wanted to be “transparent” about such deals, he was reserving the right to hold off announcing them possibly until as late as the early stages of the official election campaign.
The Prime Minister’s remarks suggest he realises that National has become too blase in turning parliamentary seats into playthings akin to the “rotten boroughs” of old England and a return to more careful political management is in order.
It’s worth listening to the full press conference – it’s on Scoop and can get it
. It was Fairfax senior journalist Vernon Small who raised the gerrymander issue, asking Key whether gifting a seat to a party that was polling at zero was almost the definition of gerrymander. Key suddenly realised he had to catch a plane to meet Tony Abbott.
Other gallery journalists not always met with praise on this site pressed Key as well on how well these issues and tactics were understood by voters in general.
While Key is keen to get off the subject, I don’t think these issues are going to go away. The preternaturally weak Election Amendment Bill is still due to have its second reading in the House, John Banks is still to have his day in court, and the Maori Party knows that if it is to survive in any electorate it has to distance itself from National.
As one gallery member remarked at the press conference, the Maori Party has vote against National 80% of the time. It would be an interesting exercise to see how many Bills passed into law by virtue of the single-party gerrymander provided by Banks and Dunne.
And of course if Banks is found guilty and has to step down from Parliament, what will Key do then? If he asks National’s already selected candidate Paul Goldsmith to step aside for the zero-polling ACT candidate, it will be a Vernon Small “by definition” gerrymander. If Paul Goldsmith stands and wins, National will have one more MP than they were entitled to as a result of the 2011 election; another gerrymander. If Goldsmith stands and wins a by-election, will he be asked to stand aside in the general election. Will Key have to bring forward the date of the election to avoid a by-election if Banks is guilty? What happens to his majority then?
Oh what a tangled web they weave…