[I’ll just preface this post by saying I have no love for Winston Peters’ politics and I’m happy to see New Zealand First out of Parliament but, then, I would also be happy to see National out of Parliament and, surely, we shouldn’t base an electoral system on particular outcomes for particular parties, rather, on morality and justice]
According to the preliminary count, 88,000 New Zealanders voted for New Zealand First this election (the number will be nearly 100,000 once specials are added). There will be no MPs representing those voters’ choice of preferred party in this Parliament. In contrast, 78,000 New Zealanders voted for Act but, despie being fewer in number than NZF supporters, their voice will be represented in this Parliament because National voters split their vote in Epsom to ensure Act won the seat. It is largely due to these two factors, the wasting of NZF votes and the inclusion of the smaller number of Act votes, that we have a National/Act government rather than a Labour-led government.
There seems to me no logical reason why Act voters should get their voice heard but NZF voters shouldn’t. It’s one of these ‘quirks’ of MMP. But it is an unnecessary quirk arising from the fact that we have a 5% threshold. So, why do we have a threshold and why is it 5%?
MMP was introduced in post-War Germany, replacing the pre-Nazi fixed list proportional system. It was felt that a threshold of 4% would prevent extremist parties gaining a toehold in the Bundestag. A sensible, if probably ineffective, precaution in a country that had just been wrecked by the Nazis’ actions. But hardly a reason for us to have it. The Royal Commission that recommended we adopt MMP also said we should adopt the 4% threshold as part and parcel of it. For reasons I’ve never seen satisfactorily explained, that was raised to 5% when MMP was enacted.
Since MMP was introduced, nearly 400,000 votes have been wasted on parties that won enough support to justify at least one seat on a proportional basis and two incumbent parties (NZF and the Alliance) have been knocked out of Parliament in that manner. In 1999, the Greens would have been out of Parliament and 103,000 voters would have lost their representaiton if just 3,300 fewer votes had been received by the Greens. All because of the threshold.
Now, people will say that if we didn’t have a threshold then the Bill and Ben Party would have won a seat last election. To which I respond, not really and so what? If there was no threshold fewer people would make protest votes on joke parties. And if they did and the Bill and Ben Party won a seat, who are you and I to say that is wrong? The day we start deciding that some people’s voice shouldn’t be represented because they’ve made a dumb choice is a dangerous day indeed. If we’re going to start deciding some parties are not ‘worthy’ enough to be in Parliament irrespective of the support they receive, we would have to get rid of United Future for starters.
If there were no threshold, it would not be a free-for-all (not that there’s any reason why a free-for-all would be bad). A party would still need to get 20,000-odd votes to get in and most people would still vote for larger parties. As with the introduction of MMP, removing the threshold would make Parliament more diverse and representive of the opinions of voters – surely good things to have in a democracy.
It is a complete injustice that 88,000 votes doesn’t get a voice just because there weren’t 16,000 more people who agreed with them while 78,000 people do get a voice just because 16,000 voters who support a different party tactically supported one of their party’s candidates.
MMP is a great system, the best I’ve yet studied. There is no need to throw the baby out with the bathwater here. But to make MMP fairer we should remove the threshold.