I’ve mentioned here before that I’m a big fan of Pundit. Pundit writer and legal academic Andrew Geddis has been doing some important work on electoral law, including contributions to the select committee that is looking at the 2011 referendum on MMP and the reform of campaign funding practices. He covers some of this work in a couple of posts on Pundit, which were picked up and reported very fully by TVNZ.
In the first post:
John Key to announce the election date soon – I hope
New Zealand should fix its election date in law. Otherwise, John Key needs to tell us when the 2011 election will be held … and soon.
But the bigger problem arises where an early election gets called at relatively short notice (as happened in 2002 and 1984). Because here the “regulated period” will start only when the election is called – which in 2002 was 46 days before election day, and in 1984 was a mere 30 days in advance. Furthermore, the fact that only the Prime Minister and his (or her) party knows when the election will be called, and thus the regulated period begins, confers a considerable potential advantage. The incumbent party could engage in a swift, expensive advertising blitz, then call an early election and thereby restrict how much the opposition can spend in response (while still being able to spend up to the cap itself).
Which is where the idea of fixing the election date in law comes in. For if the election day was specified in advance for all to see, with a fixed 90-day/3 month period of regulated spending preceding it, then any partisan advantage would be nullified. And why should the Prime Minister even have the effective power to decide what day we get to vote on? (In formal terms it is the Governor General who dissolves Parliament and calls an election, but by constitutional convention he or she only will do so on the advice of the Prime Minister.) It seems more a hangover of practices past than a rule that has good reasons to recommend it.
In the second post Geddis drafts a possible member’s bill that would achieve the goals he has outlined.
The argument and the supporting documentation is much richer than the brief summary I have given it here, and this is an interesting and important constitutional debate. If you have a (sensible and constructive) comment to make then I highly recommend that you head on over to Pundit and make it there. And while we’re on the subject of interesting policy blogs, I hope you’re keeping an eye on Policy Progress too.