A four year term?

Written By: - Date published: 12:09 pm, August 9th, 2010 - 45 comments
Categories: democratic participation, electoral systems, referendum - Tags:

According to the Herald (which, helpfully, doesn’t provide any details) a new survey from the Business Council for Sustainable Development shows “strong support for extending the period between general elections.” Referenda in 1967 and 1990 strongly rejected a four-year term, has public opinion mysteriously shifted? Do you think four years is a good idea?

Myself, I’m undecided. On the one hand, constant electioneering clearly doesn’t lead to good government. John Key, for example, has governed this entire term for the purpose of getting a second term and the results in every area – from the economy, to health, to education, to crime – have been disastrous. Perhaps, a four year term would give more time to govern and that would mean better governance… perhaps.

On the other hand, we need better accountability – the actions powerful need to be held to public judgement more, not less. There are heaps of things that ought to be done to make Parliament and the Government more transparent and accountable. Extending the term to four years doesn’t work in that direction.

Actually, I’ve just argued myself to a conclusion. On balance, I’m in favour of keeping three year terms.

45 comments on “A four year term?”

  1. Sanctuary 1

    NZ has a unicameral parliament without any check or balance of an upper house or constitution. Our main parties are whipped to an extraordinary degree. The idea of factions or anything other than the tightest of party discipline is perceived in our authoritarian society as weakness. Furthermore, we have an equally authoritarian tradition of rule by cabinet fiat. MMP only partially restrains this. Therefore a short electoral cycle is an important component of our democracy.

  2. deemac 2

    actually NZ MPs show much more independence than, for example, British MPs. Main problem with such a short cycle is it encourages short-termism by governments. Plus a first-term govt can spend the whole time blaming the previous administration for any problems.

  3. actually NZ MPs show much more independence than, for example, British MPs.

    Really? When was the last widespread backbench rebellion in NZ? In fact, when was the last time a backbencher crossed the floor to vote against their party’s policy?

    These things are commonplace in the UK. The previous government’s authoritarian anti-terrorism policy was (thankfully) hamstrung by them; the present government’s plans for piecemeal electoral reform may suffer the same fate. Meanwhile, we can count the number of MPs who have bucked the whip in NZ in the last decade on the fingers of one hand.

    If you are basing your position on term-length on this sort of nationalistic delusion, then I can only advise that bullshit does not make a good intellectual foundation.

    • burt 3.1

      Their MPs also resign when they get caught with their pants around their ankles or their snouts in the trough. Here we have “not in the public interest to prosecute” defending them. Much needs to change before we can call our two horse popularity contest governance.

      • Idiot/Savant 3.1.1

        The reason no MP is ever prosecuted for “get[ting] caught with their pants around their ankles” is because we don’t live in the C20th anymore. Sexual relations between consenting adults are a private, not a criminal matter, and rightly so (oh, and what MPs do in their own bedrooms is irrelevant to “governance”).

      • burt 3.1.2

        That’s one part of my comment addressed, any comments about stealing money to win elections of killing off court cases to protect their own best interests?

      • burt 3.1.3

        Actually don’t bother answering that, I know from your previous posts on NRT that you don’t appreciate the difference between validations passed under urgency outside of normal budgetary cycle and normal validations of unexpected or unplanned spending passed in the conventional way with the budget.

        • Ari

          Oh, so it’s a process objection is it? That’s not the impression you’ve been giving banging on about this topic the last few years.

  4. Lanthanide 4

    Meet halfway and have 42-month (that’s 3 1/2 year) terms?

    • lprent 4.1

      No way… It is bad enough when we have early elections and have to claw our way slowly back from campaigning in the wet to the dry…

      You’d have me freezing my arse canvassing off every second election. 🙂

  5. Olwyn 5

    I appreciate Sanctuary’s comment, but also wonder if a longer cycle would force parties to commit themselves more solidly to a course of action. You can effectively spend most of 3 years in campaign mode with the next 3 years in view, but it would be harder to fill 4 years in this manner and hope to be re-elected. At the same time, 4 years is a long time to endure a ghastly government with the bit between its teeth. Maybe 4 year terms with more checks and balances to curb the excesses of the ghastly.

  6. I wrote about this a while ago, my argument being:

    I’m in favour of extending the term to four years because it gives us an opportunity to see if the polices implemented in the first two years of a government are actually working. The status quo is that the third year is another election and it’s not until the second term that we get to find out whether their policies are any good or not. I think that’s one of the main reasons we never get single term governments despite some of the truly awful governments we’ve had through the years.

    The extensive polling conducted by both parties already gives us a measure of indirect control but I feel the three year term gives rise to the Judith Collins phenomenon: Ministers who see policy as an opportunity for favourable media coverage and improving their poll results but are indifferent to the actual efficacy or long term effects of those policies. If they were in power for four years they’d have to point to measurable outcomes or the opposition could point to the lack thereof and hopefully be a bit more prudent when they spend our money and write our laws.

  7. tc 7

    4 year terms often end up averaging 3-3.5 year terms as the incumbent gov’t often goes to the polls early to if there’s good conditions or bad conditions coming they want an election held before.

    Granny herald again putting forward other agendas trying to make news instead of reporting what’s independantly verifiable……what a joke they are.

  8. wilbur 8

    I’m thinking a four year term will work better as it seems to me like its a more natural frequency for the electoral cycle; i.e. the public will be more willing to change their mind in a four year cycle than in a 3 year cycle. Therefore, when you account for human nature, a four year cycle could be more accountable

    • burt 8.1

      Accountability is not driven by the length of the term, it’s maintained by the integrity and principles of the people we elect. Giving self serving muppets a four year term will simply allow self serving muppets more time to look after their own best interests.

  9. Draco T Bastard 9

    Personally, I want more democracy and that means getting rid of representative democracy.

    • Bill 9.1

      Isn’t there something about 4 years and jumping when commanded? Oh, getting confused, leap years and all that. But bashing on with the bad analogy anyway, representative undemocracy can go take a running jump any time soon. Although any time soon still won’t be soon enough in my book.

      And besides. They’d probably think they’d have to have select committees and royal commissions on just how far a jump should be attempted and from what launch speed, all the while completely missing the point of the cliff.

      Oh, ftr, I favour a life long term of governance free of illegitimate elites and their lackeys.

    • Rex Widerstrom 9.2

      Or, having given the kids the keys to the house while we’re away, do we take a three week holiday and hope they haven’t done too much damage by the time we get back, or take four weeks and explain to them we’re doing so because we think they’ve grown up and we know they won’t disappoint us by breaking into the drinks cabinet and using our credit cards to hire prostitutes. Like they did every other time we went away.

      I’d personally like to see a mix of both… representative democracy heavily moderated by direct democracy and other measures such as recall.

      But the point is, the length of the term would become a non-issue, pretty much, if we had a way of restraining the bastards from running amok during the period.

      • Bill 9.2.1

        “…representative democracy heavily moderated by direct democracy and other measures such as recall.”

        Which all adds up, I suspect, to a form of democratic centralism. Which is the only proposition I’ve ever come across which claims to extract, or attempts to extract, democratic outcomes from hierarchies. Doesn’t work though. What you get is authoritarianism. Every time. Without fail.

        I’ll have that post cobbled together by the weekend, will I?

        But in the meantime, think about this. Why not have all types of decision making processes in place? All fluid (temporary) and all determined by people on a case by case basis; by those who will be impacted by any given decision.

        So no permanent ‘representative set up’ such as a parliament. Which means no ‘running amok’ by any serving representatives, cause there wouldn’t be any terms being served.

        And you’re probably thinking something along the lines of “Well, that’s all very good, but how do we organise on scales large enough to satisfy modern productive capacities and in a way that would distribute productive outputs, if we don’t have some central or over arching authority or set of specialists/managers/politicians that we, the populace somehow hold to account?”

        And I’d probably answer that, that’s a good question but that you’ll have to wait for the post to get the answer.

        • Rex Widerstrom

          Ah Bill, you tease 😉

          I’d also ask how you’d stop a massive outflow of foreign capital investment (the good type as well as the bad) occasioned by the uncertainty “fluid” decision making would bring. And what would even NZ businesses rely upon to guide their investment and hiring decisions?

          We’d have the weather, followed by taxes… “forecasters are predicting higher company tax rates till around the middle of next week, when the bosses return in numbers from the overseas winter holidays and start voting again…” 😀

          And “voting weighted by impact” surely means one thing – self interest rules. Taxes on people in my profession? None, thanks very much, we’re a vital contributer to… err… democracy, or something… but I reckon those other damn small businesses could pay a bit more, judging by what I just had to pay to get my car fixed…

          Of course I can do that now but I’m just one vote. Give me a vote on small business taxes in proportion to how they affect me (a lot) and there’s no telling what I might do!

          If I could trouble you for a preview, however… when you say democratic centralism leads inevitably to authoritarianism, do you mean moreso than what we have now, less, or the same? Because I can see how one could argue it’s not perfect, but not how one could argue it’s not a vast improvement.

          • Draco T Bastard

            …foreign capital investment (the good type…

            There’s no such thing.

            And “voting weighted by impact’ surely means one thing self interest rules.

            Different “levels” of voting. eg, national level everyone’s vote counts the same, at the cooperative level only the those that work there get a vote on what the cooperative does although the community would probably get a vote about the cooperative actually being there.

            when you say democratic centralism leads inevitably to authoritarianism, do you mean moreso than what we have now, less, or the same?

            IMO, there is more authoritarianism now than there was and that is due to the increased centralism that has been brought about since the Rogernomic reforms of the 1980s. There has only been an appearance of decentralisation as state assets were sold but business sales to major corporates is the flip side of that coin.

    • loota 9.3

      Isn’t any kind of democracy doomed if your country has no more citizens, just consumers and investors?

      • Draco T Bastard 9.3.1

        Yes, such a society, which is what we have now, breeds psychopathy because of it’s need for growth, for treading on others to get what you want and the greed that comes with both.

        • Rosy

          Yep. What Loota said, because citizenship first of all implies common rights and responsibilities. Why don’t we teach this stuff at school?

          • Armchair Critic

            ‘Cos National only want to teach the three R’s, reading, writing and ‘rithmetic, not rights and responsibilities.
            Why? Because reading, writing and arithmetic make you a good wage slave. If they haven’t shrunk the economy enough to have destroyed your job, yet. But if you know you have rights, you might dare to want to exercise them. And they might have to make good on their responsibilities.
            Can’t have that. Best not teach those last two. /sarcasm

            • Rex Widerstrom

              Cos National politicians only want to teach the three R’s, reading, writing and ‘rithmetic, not rights and responsibilities.

              Didn’t notice any Labour government of the past rushing to introduce civics to the curriculum either, AC.

              Such things should be taught of course, but you’ll need to prise the politicians’ cold, dead hands from the levers of power first.

              • Draco T Bastard

                We intend to.

              • Armchair Critic

                Didn’t notice any Labour government of the past rushing to introduce civics to the curriculum…
                Me neither, Rex. But I have noticed National changing the emphasis of education to make the “product” of the education system more suited to making good employees. Which appeals to some people, but IMO it’s not enough to teach people to read, write and add.
                Capcha – FISH – thanks for reinstating the sentience on the capcha, Lynn.

  10. prism 10

    Maybe if there was a 4 year term, projects like the Auckland road tunnel I think Waterview its called, would get started and have to be finished instead of huge amounts of money and time spent researching, planning and costing and then a replacement government just binning it.

    We waste so much money this way with the parties playing see-saw. They appear to move but we never get anywhere with good policies. Never mind we always have the beneficiaries to scold , sneer and point at. Mustn’t look at the costs of constant change, abandonment of any protection for our employment in our little industries which even a huge country like USA doesn’t try. restructuring and half-arsed policies – heard someone saying Tomorrow’s Schools was adopted but a lot of important parts of the program we were copying were left out by us. This is a regular aspect of our governments.

  11. The Voice of Reason 11

    ‘According to the Herald (which, helpfully, doesn’t provide any details) a new survey from the Business Council for Sustainable Development shows “strong support for extending the period between general elections.’ ‘


    The Herald can’t provide details because they haven’t been released yet. The BCSD has released the info for the first part of their survey, mainly regarding MMP, but the second part (which contains info on the feelings on the term) isn’t out yet. So, I’m picking the Herald is reporting something that doesn’t yet exist. ie, making shit up.

    The survey, BTW, appears to be self selecting. You go onto the research arm of BCSD’s’ website and join the survey. So only those who know who the BCSD is get asked their opinion. Hardly scientific, eh.

    • Draco T Bastard 11.1

      And not even close to be democratic.

    • bryce 11.2

      And apparently you are in the draw to win an ipod for doing the survey! what fun!

      • lprent 11.2.1

        Cheap buggers… I already have a iphone, a ipad, and a vaio Z26 loaded up with portable music. Why would a bloody ipod draw my attention?

        BTW: To avert the inevitable… I swear that I’m not a toy freak – I got the vaio for my programming work to avoid braking my aged back with another 5kg laptop. The iPhone because Lyn forced me into it. The iPad because a friend brought me back one from NY – probably because I’ve been running her mail system for a couple of decades.

  12. burt 12

    Part of the problem with this debate is that every time we change the guard the new team start a dialogue about extending the term. It seems the same people who thought it was a great idea when their team were in power are the loudest protestors when the other team is in power. Sadly like so many things in the two horse popularity contest we call democracy in NZ the debate is driven by a desire to look different to the other team while behaving the same way.

    The question of parliamentary term needs to be considered in a void of partisan thinking (which immediately falls to ‘will keep our team in for longer’ or ‘will keep the other team out for longer’) which completely derails the discussion.

    A bit like the number of MPs debate, many people immediately reject a change of the length of a term because they think it is only being put forward in the best interests of the MPs. The concept that a longer term or more MPs might serve them better gets lost in the disgust we have for the self serving nature of the major parties.

    Perhaps one day when the major parties have been reduced to a point where they stop campaigning [two ticks me] in an attempt to recapture the FPP model by stealth, we will start to look at how constitutional changes might benefit us rather than have a cynical “of course they want that’ reaction.

    • felix 12.1

      I don’t take issue with much of that, but why do you object to campaigning for “two ticks”?

      Surely every party wants the maximum party vote?

      And surely every candidate wants the maximum electorate vote?

      Are you saying that some candidates or some parties should stop contesting elections? If so, which ones? And in the interest of what?

      • burt 12.1.1

        Sure, every party wants to govern alone. “Two ticks ‘major party'” still enables an FPP style govt at every election.

        IMHO, the fact that our country sustains two center parties each big enough to govern alone speaks volumes about how poorly the proportional elements of MMP are being used, or how poorly MMP is understood.

        Many have been convinced that an overhang is a bad thing because it means more MPs. The message that it creates a more representative parliament not usually possible with two dominant parties with potential to govern alone has not got through. The fact that we are being told how to use a voting system by politicians should alarm us, however the sheeple are compliant.

        Are you saying that some candidates or some parties should stop contesting elections?

        Not at all, but given the way anything else “bad for us” is required to carry a warning I think “Two Ticks [us]” should have a * warning; two ticks [us] may give [us] the ability to govern alone. message. Gory pictures optional.

        • felix

          So seriously, what do you think should be done? (assuming that the warning message idea was tongue in cheek)

          After all, even parties with no conceivable chance of governing alone still want to get two ticks from everyone they can. Don’t they?

          Wasn’t ACT asking for party votes last time? When they know the only ACT votes that count are Rodney’s electorate ones? And why shouldn’t they?

        • burt

          I was joking about the warning, but on second thoughts we might need the pictures sooner rather than later. Muldoon has to be a starter, who are you nominating?

  13. KJT 13

    If we actually had a democracy instead of a 3 yearly choice of dictatorship the length of the term would not matter too much.

    • loota 13.1

      A democracy needs able and informed citizens! Where are they? Fawning over Lindsay Lohan?

      captcha – selects

    • burt 13.2

      Agree; we were sold a lemon with MMP, especially operated under a “two ticks us” mentality. The self serving major parties don’t want to risk a change of system that might kiss goodbye the potential to govern alone, hence no referendum on MMP.

      • prism 13.2.1

        I don’t agree we were sold a lemon with MMP burt. That is a fatuous comment. There is no easy way to find a balanced, fair and well-considered political management system. MMP is one that allows groups withpublicly legitimate constituencies that deserve a voice to be heard and be effective. Without it the result is ending up as a lobby group jostling with more powerful lobbies to get even a few minutes with the political king/queen of the moment.

        • Lats

          I tend to agree. As flawed as MMP is (and lets face it, it needs a few tweaks) it is still, in my eyes, preferable to FPP. At least under MMP minority parties that still enjoy significant amounts of support have a voice in the house. Sure the balance at times isn’t quite right, but I’d be sad indeed if the sheeple decided to return to FPP.

          As for terms of govt, I’m leaning towards a 4 year term. I think the advantages slightly outweigh the disadvantages.

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