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MMP Mark II*

Written By: - Date published: 11:57 pm, December 25th, 2019 - 24 comments
Categories: Deep stuff, elections, electoral commission, electoral systems, Maori seats, MMP, Parliament, political alternatives, political parties, Politics, uncategorized - Tags: , , , , , ,

While the digestive system is working overtime, I can write another short light post inspired by recent comments on The Standard.

I am no fan of MMP. Sure, it is heaps better than some of the other systems such as in the US and UK. But it still has a few downsides that could be addressed relatively easily in my non-expert view and some still find it too hard, it seems.

As far as I know, our MMP system has been modelled on the German system with the aim to have a more representative one that reduced the influence of a majority party and the two-party dominance by National and Labour.

Indeed, ever since the first MMP election in 1996, no single party has achieved a parliamentary majority. Arguably, though, it still is largely a two-horse race between National and Labour.

Would we or should we expect this to change and be any different by now? Germany is a federal state but even so, it is interesting to see how diverse their national parliament (der Bundestag) is in terms of political parties. I would argue that the German situation is many way ways remarkably similar to New Zealand’s one.

Germany also seems to have a rather high threshold of 5% of the national party vote, which resulted in only seven parties represented currently (currently five in NZ Parliament).

For comparison, Denmark has a threshold of 2% and has currently 10 parties represented in their parliament (Folketinget), and this picture has not changed much over time.

By TapyrrII – Made using paint.net, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=75319436

 

The Danish voting system is different from ours in that it is open-list proportional representation.

Open list describes any variant of party-list proportional representation where voters have at least some influence on the order in which a party’s candidates are elected. This is as opposed to closed list, which allows only active members, party officials, or consultants to determine the order of its candidates and gives the general voter no influence at all on the position of the candidates placed on the party list. Additionally, an open list system allows voters to select individuals rather than parties. Different systems give voter different amounts of influence. Voter’s choice is usually called preference vote.

There are a few other quirks of the Danish system I was not aware of. For example,

Gaining representation in parliament requires only 2% of the vote. With such a low election threshold, a large number of parties are represented in the chamber, making it all but impossible for one party to win the 90 seats necessary for a majority. No party has achieved this since 1901.[my emphasis]

The following is also interesting, and although I cannot see it happen any time soon in NZ, it doesn’t seem to have harmed Denmark:

All Danish governments since then [1901] have been coalitions or one-party minority governments. For this reason, a long-standing provision in the constitution allows a government to take office without getting a vote of confidence and stay in office as long as it does not lose a vote of no confidence. One consequence is that, unlike in most other parliamentary systems, a Danish government can never be sure its legislative agenda will pass, and it must assemble a majority for each individual piece of legislation.

Here’s another quirk:

The constitution does not mention political parties at all, although the electoral act does, and MPs are almost always elected for a party. The only independent who has been elected in modern times is the comedian Jacob Haugaard, but independents, usually unknown ones, are seen at every election. Requirements for standing as an independent candidate are much more lenient than for a new party (signatures from 150 eligible voters), but independents are only allowed to contest in a single district, making it very difficult to gain the needed number of votes for a seat. [my emphasis]

Lastly, let’s have a look at the system in the Netherlands, which also has semi-open-list proportional representation:

In the Netherlands, the voter can give his vote to any candidate in a list (for example, in elections for the House of the Representatives); the vote for this candidate is called a “preference vote” (voorkeurstem in Dutch). If a candidate has at least 25% of the quota then he/she takes priority over the party’s other candidates who stand higher on the party list but received fewer preference votes. Most people vote for the top candidate, to indicate no special preference for any individual candidate, but support for the party in general. Sometimes, however, people want to express their support for a particular person. Many women, for example, vote for the first woman on the list. If a candidate gathers enough preference votes, then they get a seat in parliament, even if their position on the list would leave them without a seat. In the 2003 elections Hilbrand Nawijn, the former minister of migration and integration was elected into parliament for the Pim Fortuyn List by preference votes even though he was the last candidate on the list.

The mention of women voting preferentially voting for women puts list parity in NZ in perspective, I think.

The Netherlands has a low threshold of 0.67% effectively.

This threshold is one of the lowest for national parliaments in the world, and there are usually multiple parties winning seats with 2% or less of the vote. Any party that did not have seats in the House at the time of the election will have its deposit refunded if it receives more than 75% of the threshold (1/200th of the vote).

Currently, there are 13 parties represented in the Dutch House of Representatives (Tweede Kamer der Staten-Generaal or short de Tweede Kamer).

As in Denmark, the picture has remained quite unchanged historically.

Until 1956, there were 100 seats. This was expanded to 150 seats, which is the current number.

To give an overview of the history of the House of Representatives, the figure [below] shows the seat distribution in the House from the first general elections after World War II (1946) to the current situation. The left-wing parties are towards the bottom, the Christian parties in the centre, with the right-wing parties towards the top. Occasionally, single-issue (or narrow-focus) parties have arisen, and these are shown at the extreme top. Vertical lines indicate general elections. Although these are generally held every four years, the resulting coalition governments do not always finish their term without a government crisis, which is often followed by fresh elections. Hence the frequent periods shorter than four years.

CC BY-SA 3.0, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3899214

 

How does New Zealand stack up?

We have a closed-party list system. In other words, it is completely up to the parties and their internal hierarchies to select their candidates according to their own party rules – there is no consistency between parties. Although the Electoral Commission recommended keeping the closed-party lists, I would favour a more open system giving voters more influence on the selection of candidates, be it directly (through preferential votes, for example) or indirectly (by influencing the party selection process, for example).

I think the NZ threshold of 5% is way too high and counter-intuitive to fair representation. Another problem with our MMP system is overhang seats, which the Commission has recommended abolishing. Other ‘perversions’ of MMP as it stands here in NZ are the so-called coat-tail rule and strategic voting, which can skew proportional representation and which are cynically gamed by political parties.

The number of electorate seats has been increasing steadily over the years thanks to the population growth centred in the North-Island. These seats include the seven Māori seats that all went to Labour in 2017.

I’d like to think that abolishing the Māori seats in a fairer proportional system like the one in the Netherlands should allow and enable Māori being better represented in Parliament. Only about half of all Māori are on the Māori roll and the proportional number is decreasing.

If I read the numbers correctly, there are almost half a million voters who register as Māori yet they are represented by only seven Māori seats without one dedicated (and committed) party. Under the current MMP system I cannot see how this could or would improve.

Another advantage of abolishing the electorate seats would be the requirement of having to review the boundaries every five years based on the Census. This can easily become another political football for parties to quibble about and used for political grandstanding.

It seems I am not alone here on The Standard in thinking that political parties present more of a hindrance than help 🙂 However, it is hard to see how 120 individual MPs could run an effective Parliament and Government without the support of a party and its apparatchiks. It would require a major overhaul of Parliamentary Services. It is also hard to see how candidates would mount an effective election campaign without party support unless they are so-called self-made millionaires and/or rely heavily on donations. Arguably, these are the least qualified candidates to represent us. Still, I think it would be good to debate and address the dominant influence of party politics on and over national (and local) politics.

*MMP 2.0 just didn’t feel right for some reason.

24 comments on “MMP Mark II* ”

  1. Andre 1

    Why do we even have electorates?

    Seems to me it's mostly a historical artefact from the days that it took weeks or months to travel from one part of the country to another. So a geographical area electing a local representative to be their voice in governing national affairs was an efficient way to do things.

    While rapid modern travel and instant communications have reduced the need for local communities to have their person on the ground in order to have their issues considered, it still hasn't eliminated it completely. So it seems to me having MPs represent a local geographical area is still a worthwhile thing to have.

    But our current iteration of MMP gives rise to various anomalies and distortions. See Epsom, Dunne, Anderton, Maori Party overhang seats etc. While it seems to me keeping electorate seats as part of the mix is worthwhile, it's also worthwhile to eliminate ways for voters to use their electorate vote to game themselves extra representational power. Keeping overhang seats, but making the holders of overhang seats ineligible to vote on confidence and supply would do that.

    • McFlock 1.1

      Heh – "why do we have them" vs "why should we keep them".

      I suspect electorates are a holdover from feudalism – originally the local landowners/dominators, anda general expansion of the vote but still sticking with the area principle.

      BUT

      Different regions have different needs and priorities, yet a third of the vote is concentrated in one city. So are we a nation, or are we a city that occupies the regions like an overloerd?

    • Macro 1.2

      What McFlock says. But to add also that there is a need for some local representation at government level. One of the main tasks for an electoral MP is the representation of the needs of locals on all manner of issues to government. For instance on a personal level I had an issue with the Education Depart over my correct level of salary. My local MP communicated directly with the Minister of Education, and the issue was quickly resolved. Whereas the school and I had been battling for months to get the matter sorted.

    • DS 1.3

      To put it bluntly, without electorates, we'd have 120 MPs from Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch. Regional New Zealand – especially, say, the West Coast – would struggle to get representation.

  2. Andre 2

    It's also worth reminding ourselves what recommended changes came out of the Electoral Commission review in 2012. That Judith Collins promptly shat on and flushed down the toilet. Those recommendations were:

    • Reducing the party vote threshold from 5 percent to 4 percent. If the 4 percent threshold is introduced, it should be reviewed after three general elections.
    • Abolishing the one electorate seat threshold – a party must cross the party vote threshold to gain list seats.
    • Abolishing the provision of overhang seats for parties not reaching the threshold – the extra electorates would be made up at the expense of list seats to retain 120 MPs
    • Retaining the status quo for by-election candidacy and dual candidacy.
    • Retaining the status quo with closed party lists, but increasing scrutiny in selection of list candidates to ensure parties comply with their own party rules.
    • Parliament should give consideration to fixing the ratio between electorate seats and list seats at 60:40 (72:48 in a 120-seat parliament)

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electoral_system_of_New_Zealand#2011_referendum_and_Electoral_Commission_2012_report

  3. Bg 3

    Some good ideas and my greatest gripe about MMP is the make up of the party lists. Personally I feel they are MPs that should be nowhere near parliament but through their influence on the workings of the party get a high list spot, and once in, it's almost impossible to get rid of them. Therefore the people (the voting public) can't vote them out.

    One possible solution I thought of was that everyone has to be standing on the electorate ticket, no list MPs only. And your list standing is determined by the result of the percentage of support you received, if you didn't win your seat of course.

    There's obvious flaws in this, where people can still be dropped into favourable electorates, I understand that but the people still have some influence over the make up of the list, rather than a more commonly a board. Also it makes every MP accountable to a region, so every 3 years (I'd possibly change that as well) they have to look their voters in the eye and ask them for their vote. Instead of pleading thier case to a group of a dozen or less members (or in one case, one person who holds complete sway over the party)

  4. mikesh 4

    The high threshold also seems to bring the 'wasted vote' factor into play. Some voters would like to vote an unpopular party but are reluctant to do so because they fear that their vote will prove 'wasted' if that party fails to reach the threshold. In particular, this makes it difficult for new parties to get started.

  5. Dennis Frank 5

    All your reasoning seems valid to me. The Green view would use biodiversity as the basic principle, so parliament ought to reflect the broader community via a diversity of political brands. I'd support either 2 or 3% threshold as a pragmatic compromise, although your citation of the Netherlands (0.67%) producing 13 parties elected impressed me!

    That vivid bar graph from Wikipedia depicting the consequent political ecosystem had an instant impact: "Hey, that looks just like a Hundertwasser painting!" Life imitating art again. I've got a wonderful small book from his initial exhibition in the Auckland Art Gallery (1970, I think) with several miniature versions amongst the several dozen included that are very similar to that diagram (they used iridescent colours, too – very rare even nowadays).

    As for the party principle of representation, I agree the practice has largely discredited it. Even in the Greens. That's why I'd prefer to include a participatory design. When I advocated regenerating our legislative chamber to enable consensus politics to be included along with competitive politics several years ago, the integral frame proved too hard for most commentators to comprehend. As usual. But that would be a way into the system for keen politicos, allowing them to bypass party conformity.

  6. bwaghorn 6

    Lowering the threshold would mean the likes of colin craig would have made it into government. I'm good with 5% .

    Mmp is working fine .

    • Andre 6.1

      Seems to me the kooks would be a lot easier to manage and quarantine when they're out in the open compared to when they're operating in stealth infiltration mode like Paulo Garcia or Christopher Luxon.

    • Incognito 6.2

      In 2008, the ACT Party won only 3.6% of the Party vote. But ACT got a total of five seats in the House of Representatives because an ACT candidate won the Epsom electorate; this has been called the “coat-tailing” rule.[21] However, the New Zealand First party which got 4.07% of the list vote or below the 5% threshold was not returned to parliament in 2008.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electoral_system_of_New_Zealand#MMP_in_New_Zealand

      If a party has a large enough constituency, it should represent that in Parliament, IMO. You might not/never vote for them but others do. If somebody acts like a moron, in your eyes, they might still be an effective politician.

      MMP can do better, or better even, we can do better than MMP.

    • pat 6.3

      expect we have to accept that the technocrats will always seek to moderate electorate demands regardless of system…..and why 'populism' (of any leaning) is feared…we need to be protected from ourselves….and its difficult to argue against given human history. Sadly they are slow to move and frequently too late.

    • I'm good with 5%.

      Of course you are – it disenfranchises a sector of the population you don't like. But your personal preferences shouldn't be the basis of our electoral system, so the question is how does disenfranchising minority voters make for a good electoral system? Good luck arguing that one.

  7. Puckish Rogue 7

    Good post angel

  8. DS 8

    It would never fly, but we honestly need to start looking at increasing the number of South Island electorates (currently at 16) to 20 or so. That would decrease the size of the North Island electorates, so you'd have to increase the number of List MPs to preserve proportionality… increasing the size of Parliament ain't going to be popular.

    However, some of these regional South Island electorates are getting too damn big at the geographical level. The proposed boundary changes in the Otago-Southland region are a direct consequence.

    • Mad Plumber 8.1

      The South Island electorates do need looking at as the rivers cause a natural boundary and generally there are only two crossing points which makes the time spent travelling for MP's extremely long. One benefit from all this travelling they do see the idiots on the road.

      [Changed the user name to the one you have used here previously if that is ok with you]

  9. Stuart Munro 9

    Parties are a bit of a curate's egg – good in parts, though which parts can be pretty hard to figure out. Independents are valuable if they break the deadlocks created by tacit agreement between parties, or campaign on issues parties prefer not to address. We don't seem to get true independents since MMP, and since I wouldn't characterize our governance as stellar, I'm minded to call that a failing.

    The first obvious change is to lower the 5% bar to remove the anomalies it creates.

    Term limits might serve to remove some of the most egregiously petrified deadwood that no-one would hire on a bet, like Smith & Brownlee.

    Almost as critical however is the lame-ass media, click-baiting morons who rarely or never analyze policy or produce comparisons with places that have tried such things before. Parties get up to mischief without that critical analysis, and broadly speaking current political journalists just don't produce it. Maybe we need to elect political commentators too.

  10. Richard 10

    I had an idea on this also.

    The proportional voting system would work as follows:

    Points 1 to 3 (required for system to function):

    1. The number of seats in parliament would be a potential maximum. The only way to fill them all would be if everyone on the roll voted for a party. The empty seats in parliament would be representative of the 'none of the above' vote.

    2. The threshold would be the 'natural threshold' of one seat worth of the total roll. The number of votes required for one seat being equal to the total roll divided by the maximum seats in parliament. A party would need to meet or exceed this number (no rounding up).

    3. A parliamentary majority is always half the occupied seats in the house plus one (not half the max plus one).

    Points 4 and 5 (not necessary for system to function but I like them):

    4. Compulsory voting: All voting age persons would need to be enrolled and vote. There should be a 'none of the above' box to tick along with the party boxes. Voters could also just spoil the ballot if they wish, but they must turn up even if just to say 'get fucked'.

    5. Oh and another of Bomber's favourites: election day should be a public holiday.

    If we use the following numbers for an example:

    Max seats – 200
    Total roll – 4,000,000

    The one seat threshold that must be exceeded for a party to enter parliament is (4,000,000 / 200 = 20,000 votes). A total of 19,999 would not be enough.

    If somewhere near but exceeding 3,000,000 of the roll cast a valid vote for a party, the above numbers would yield something like 150 seats in parliament, with 50 remaining empty. A parliamentary majority would then be 76. This would not work out exactly, as there would be wasted vote that didn't push the party past another seat (there would actually be a little less than 150 occupied, the difference representing the wasted valid vote as opposed to the 'up yours' vote).

    This system of course also dispenses with the electorate seats and I concede that it does not deal with how to ensure effective local representation (see Macro's comment at 1.2).

  11. soddenleaf 11

    Just to point out, if you want to put the work in, just have a party primary where the members (or wider) choose the order. I'm really fed up with the Ozzie system, the overly detailed lists and forced voting, leads inevitably to a under accountable system. Keep it simple. Electorates work as you fel there in a mp who understands the local issues, or should. Trump won because people were fedup, Brexit happened similarly, people unable to provoke necessary change. Democrats will lose if like Clinton they ignore Bernie having tapped into something.

  12. Descendant Of Smith 12

    I'd rather see some real change that represents the partnership in the Treaty.
    60 Maori seats and 60 non-Maori seats.

    The Maori seats distributed on broad iwi lines (though Maori themselves should determine how the seats should be allocated).

    I'd love to see this approach tested out at a council level even. What different approaches and attitudes might we see – ones that would place higher values on the environment and collectivism and benefits for Maori.

    The first colonised country in the world to give equal political rights to its indigineous population.

  13. AB 13

    I would be inclined to get large donors, anonymous donors and rich self-funders out of the system first before changing much else. Have supplementary public funding kick in once an organisation/party hits a threshold of members who are contributing an annual amount capped at a level affordable by someone on the median wage. No non-individual donors allowed, i.e. no businesses, churches, unions, etc. This might help turn parties into genuinely democratic vehicles rather than fronts for special interests.

    We could end coat-tailing immediately as it just encourages corruption – but beyond that I'd like to see the financing side fixed first.

  14. Wally2 14

    MMP in NZ could work with one minor modification, giving voters a second negative vote to be used against specific individuals high up on party lists.

    for instance voters may not like a previous welfare minister, or the current road safety minister who are both high up on the closed party lists. Assuming for a moment that the negative vote threshold was 10%. Then if the previous welfare minister was number 4 on the party list, but received 10% or more of the negative vote, that previous minister would not re-enter parliament, even if the party gained 60% of the vote. Whereas the road safety minister seeking re-election who got 9.5% would retain her place on the party list.

    in effective the wider voter base gets to have a say in which individuals are deemed too nasty for re-election, while still being able to maintain their preferred party, and individual vote.

    The negative vote could also influence electorate candidates, irrespective of list position, by reducing the electro rate vote garnered by them by 10% Thus no such thing as a safe seat could ensure a much hated parliamentarian confidently regaining parliament. They would have to work hard to not only con their “safe seat” electorate, it would also have to avoid generating the hatred of the entire nation.

    The only additional twists required are that the negative vote should be cast 5 months before the election in a closed ballot, only opened after the regular poll closes. Also, slagging individual opponents by politicians, Party officials and media within a month of the negative vote would need to be subject to penalty. The negative vote needs to be subject entirely to the whim of the voting public.

    On these measures I can think of at least four parliamentarians who would need to radically change their spots to regain parliament. I can confidently say that both major parties would be decimated.

    the slight cost of having two consecutive vote processes is easily accommodated as the first would easily be accommodated as part of the present signing electors up. Those that sign up on the final polling day/week would miss out on the negative vote. Thus we may ultimately end up with a much higher final voter turnout after a few cycles than the present 70 odd percent and falling turnout.

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