There is an interesting paper by Mai Chen in NZ Lawyer Online about the pros and cons of the referendum on MMP that National has promised by 2011 – “Is the MMP referendum likely to result in electoral reform?”
The current position is that MMP has managed to operate effectively in the NZ environment. Both the parliamentarians and voters have adapted to the changed political environment.
Our political parties have learned to operate under MMP (indeed a dwindling proportion of MPs have first-hand experience of the pre-MMP era), and they have developed constitutional conventions and practices to accommodate MMP, which are now recorded in the Cabinet Manual. Our political culture is now used to â€˜agree to disagree’ provisions under different configurations of support which allow coalition governments (mostly minority governments) to govern from day to day.
The article points out the requirements to change the voting system.
Legislative requirement to change or repeal MMP (entrenched)
It does not matter if Labour and all of the minor parties, except ACT, would vote against amending or repealing MMP. National can use the majority at a public referendum to reform this entrenched provision. Under section 268(1)(f) of the Electoral Act 1993 (Act), section 168 of the Act, on the method of voting, can only be repealed or amended if passed by a majority of 75 per cent of all members of the House or if it has been passed by a majority of votes at a poll.
There is considerable discussion about the pros and cons of MMP. But as the author points out
To varying degrees, these problems could be addressed by reforming the MMP system, rather than changing to an alternative.
For the particular effect shown in the 2008 election of ACT getting a smaller vote than NZ First, but being able to get into parliament because of the Epsom electorate result. However the author also suggests that for that particular inequity :-
This could be remedied to some extent by either:
(a) Reducing the threshold to three per cent or removing the threshold altogether, which would likely result in a greater proliferation of smaller parties; or
(b) Requiring all parties to meet the five per cent threshold before they can have any List seats over and above their constituency seats. In the 2008 election, this would have meant that ACT would only have one MP, and the only minor party to obtain any List seats would be the Greens who won 6.72 per cent of the party vote.
Implementing either of these options would only require the amendment of section 191 of the Act, which is not entrenched under section 268 of the same Act.
In other words, with a simple act of parliament.
In discussing the Supplementary Member system that John Key has said would be included in the referendum, there was an interesting analysis of the effect at the 2008 election. Effectively it would have allowed National to govern on its own with a comfortable majority (which is probably why Key favours it being on the referendum list), but with all of the same parties represented in parliament.
The conclusion of the article is
The 1986 report of the Royal Commission on Electoral Reform was entitled Towards a Better Democracy. After five MMP elections, it is time to ask whether our democracy has been improved, and if there are further changes that would make it still better. Hence, a referendum, and the debate and discussion it will engender, is welcome. However, the stability of recent MMP governments suggests that while voters may want to contemplate significant tweaking of the MMP system, they are less likely to clamour for fundamental change involving a switch to another electoral system.
I cannot see any particular reason to switch voting systems. There are a few inequites that would be nice to iron out, especially winning an electorate seat and then pulling in list seats. That would get rid of a lot of the tail wagging the dog issues shown with ACT, United Future or Progressives with single electorate MP’s bringing in list MP’s (NZ First managed to poll above 5% except for the last election). However where that has happened, the public has steadily cut back the party percentage votes over time.
There doesn’t seem to me to be any major move in the public to want to shift to a full First Past the Post, or partial FPP system like Single Transferable Vote. The Supplementary Member system looks more like an opportunist system to retain power in the major parties that seems unlikely to interest a voting public used to coalitions. The most likely outcome of a referendum would probably be to keep the status quo.