The election has revealed how, apart from a handful of seats, the party vote is really all that matters. The Labour surge of ten points may have provided it with an extra 13 seats – but they made a net gain of just two electorate seats.
The minor parties were culled or shaken up, and some now talk of New Zealand ditching the system that is only 24 years old, though, tellingly, those reasons seem somewhat confused and irrational.
MMP should stay but it needs to be refreshed. Minor parties are important because they provide representation to views and policies that cannot always be accommodated in the two super parties. It is in both Parliament and the voter’s interests that they be given a fair pathway into the Beehive.
There is an alternative and I look to Scotland and Wales for their national parliaments for how this can be done better. All it would take is a small but crucial change.
In these national parliaments (as I will call them for simplicity, but Wales has an assembly), there are electorates (constituencies) and a party vote.
In Scotland there are 129 MSPs, 73 of whom are elected on the first-past-the-post system, the remaining 56 via the list. In the Cynulliad Cenedlaethol Cymru there are 60 AMs (40/20).
On the surface it appears those voting systems are identical to the one in Aotearoa, without the Māori seats, of course.
However, the party vote in both Celtic countries is divided along regional lines. In Scotland there are eight regions, each having 8-10 constituencies and 6-7 top-up places.
The effect of this is that voters have a closer relationship with the list MPs. While voters in Invercargill are picking candidates from all over the country, in one of the Scottish regions, Glasgow, voters only select candidates from the city. The connection will clearly be less so in the large rural regions, but even in the Highlands and Islands, for example, the choice is to pick a Highlander.
Sensibly, there is no 5% threshold and no one-seat ‘top-up’.
This system can, and has, allowed Independent or single issue candidates from contesting the regional vote. In the past SNP renegade Margo MacDonald won a place in Holyrood this way, as did the Scottish Senior Citizen’s Unity party, but the latter, in particular, would have no chance whatsoever of success under the one-size-fits-all national vote.
Smaller parties, such as the Greens and the Scottish Socialists, have required about 6-7% in a single region to gain at least one MSP. This means those parties have been able to use their support in liberal city and industrial areas to their advantage, and not hampered so much by conservative rural and suburban areas.
In New Zealand, changing MMP could be split into seven or eight regions. For example, in Wellington and beyond, the eight seats from Rongotai up to Wairarapa and Otaki could come under the one umbrella.
While there is no guarantee such a method would aid the left it would create closer List MP-voter connections and rid us of the
low high threshold and one-man bands that our MMP system allows.
lprent: I edited a word in the last paragraph which didn’t make sense in the context of the rest of the post. It should be obvious.