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We need a new version of MMP

Written By: - Date published: 10:26 am, October 1st, 2017 - 124 comments
Categories: democratic participation, electoral systems, MMP, Politics - Tags: ,

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.

John Innes

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.

124 comments on “We need a new version of MMP ”

  1. Dan 1

    My memory may be failing me but I have an idea when the MMP system was put to the country, the Nats chose the worst option available in the expectation it would be voted out and FPP would prevail. The better models of West Australia and I think Germany were not offered, or talked down. However people voted for change and change we got.

    • tracey 1.1

      We were offered MMP but with more MPs than under FPP. I cynically thought at the time it was cos they bet on us hating the idea of more pollies more than fair representation. They were wrong.

      • To be fair to the electoral commission, they actually needed to scale up the number of politicians to keep electorates to a reasonable size for single-members under MMP, as we essentially dropped 39 electorates with the transition. I imagine that was the real reason for the recommendation, as it was made independently from Parliament, and it was considered a radical reform at the time by politicians.

        I’ve done the numbers for a discussion paper I want to hand in to the Greens soon, and if we had kept the ratio of seats-to-population we had in 1993, we would have added another 11 seats since we changed to MMP, so we’ve effectively already “eaten up” the extra seats through population growth. (that said, the need for additional seats probably does grow more slowly than population, so the ratio should really be considered either as a square root or logarithmically)

    • We essentially have the German model, but scaled down to a New Zealand size.

      The high 5% threshold is a German “innovation,” intended to make it harder for nationalists to move into their federal parliament, and our 1-electorate lifeboat rule is a copy of their 2-electorate lifeboat rule (Their 2-electorate rule is actually much easier to meet, as they have about 700 Bundesbesitzender, or MPs in our terminology) to make it slightly less silly and disenfranchising.

      It’s true we don’t have regional lists, but that’s because New Zealand has never really had a formal regional seperation into states like Germany does as a federal republic. Despite using regional lists, Germany also uses a national-level seat allocation, and then applies a sainte-laguë distribution again on each party’s seats based which of the states each Party Vote came from, to determine which state list an MP is elected from. (this is why their formal name for the party vote is actually “state list vote” translated into English, and “party vote” is given as its informal name)

      While we could do this in New Zealand, I think a better electorate vote system to represent New Zealand with regional proportionality is probably a more rational way to go. (right now, most electorates tend to go to National even in a close election, and it’s actually quite difficult for parties that aren’t National or Labour to win a plurality of votes in a seat that isn’t “safe” and “gifted” to a party ally like ACT) I would propose keeping the closed list half of our mixed system, but replacing the constituency half with either multi-winner STV or a Re-weighted Range Vote. Both have larger electorates where typically three to seven winners are chosen “at large,” meaning you can come in third and still win a seat. Both allow you to either rank or evaluate multiple candidates and don’t exactly suffer from vote-splitting as such. (they have their own strategic quirks, of course) This would mean medium parties would likely win several electorate seats just by competing aggressively for the party vote with strong local candidates, and that minor parties going for electorate seats would find it easier as they don’t need to dominate an entire electorate, just come in somewhere between the top seven and top three, depending on the size of their electorate.

      The reason I say this is because there are actually parties that do a better job at regional representation through their existing party lists than a regional list system would allow them to. The Greens, for example, would consist almost entirely of urban representatives from Wellington and Auckland in such a system.

      • tracey 1.2.1

        Germany has much greater regional identity than us from culture to accents/dialect. At times in the past they ruled independently so it doesnt directly convert to NZ. We also have the Maori Seats.

        I would hate to see FPP back. It tended to give us lurches depending on whether Labour or Nats ruled. MMP has given voice and influence to diverse quarters which has seen the edges integration as policy by the big parties.

        The drawback is the status quo is perhaps held on to for longer

        • KJT

          We voted for MMP, to counter the ideological lunacy of the 80’s and 90’s Dictatorships. Slowing down Government legislation was a desired feature.

          Unfortunately that part hasn’t worked to well, with National gaming the system to ensure they had sycophants in their minor adjunct parties.

          Yet another reason why Swiss style binding referenda are the minimum requirement for real democratic participation. Not going to happen though, because the majority will vote for increased taxes on the rich and a fair go.

          • Dialey

            Referenda only work when you have a civically educated and engaged voting public. I’d hate the likes of Mike Hosking to determine any referendum outcome due to his celebrity status

            • KJT

              The same objection applies to our present system.

              I might add. It also only works when politicians and their media outlets, tell the truth.

  2. Andre 2

    Even simpler to just lower the threshold and abolish coat-tailing so we don’t get rorts like Epsom. Y’know, just implement the recommendations of the 2012 review.


    It’s also occurred to me that if we disqualified overhang MPs from confidence and supply votes, the incentive for Epsom and Ohariu type rorts would be reduced.

    • Pretty much. All of those need to be implemented by next election.

      I’d also like to see the threshold dropped to the percentage required to get one seat and Preferential voting in electorates.

    • Phil Saxby 2.2

      Almost all the NZ experience of overhang seats has been with the Maori seats, when the Maori Party won lots of electorates (far more than its party vote would qualify it to hold).

      Ohariu was an overhang seat in 2014-2017, but no other general electorate has been an “overhang”.

      People who live in Ohariu, and have voted for Peter Dunne as their MP election after election, don’t consider they were “rorting” the system. Maybe their votes should be respected as genuine and legitimate?

      I am an Ohariu voter myself…

  3. ianmac 3

    The threshold should be demolished.
    Coat-tailing as in Act abolished. Act with .5% in. TOP 2.5% out. Wrong!

    • weka 3.1

      Given TOP would probably support a coalition with National a la the Māori Party, or possibly even go with National and prevent a LW government, this election was the first time I seriously thought against lowering the threshold (I’ve previously been in favour). I’m sure I’ll come round again, but it was sobering.

      • Roy 3.1.1

        That is as much an issue with campaign funding. What got Gareth so many votes? His amazingly forward policies? His handsome, electable mug hung all over the place? Or his millions?

        • tracey

          It helps that as a white middle aged dude who has an economics background and ran a business he gets a head start with an assumption he must know everything about everything cos of those factors

          • Carolyn_nth

            More than anything, we need the money taken out of elections.

            So far we have had these rich white guys trying to form their own parties:

            Colin Craig
            Kim Dotcom
            Gareth Morgan

            And to make it easier for new parties to form out of an agreed philosophy and MO.

            • mikesh

              I understand there are rules about how much a party can spend. I doubt if he broke those rules.

            • tracey

              Alan Gibbs and Doug Myers = ACT

            • Phil Saxby

              I helped start the Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party in 1996. We had no money, but we did get enough support to qualify for two MPs, that year.

              What killed us was the 5% threshold.

              Money is not the issue; our restrictions on advertising are sufficient to provide a fair contest.

              What we need, to improve the representative-ness of Parliament, is a 2% threshold (at most). At present, all our small parties are being throttled to death (or near-death in the case of the Greens and NZ First).

        • Andre

          “What got Gareth so many votes?”

          It was his warm empathetic manner in patiently explaining the nuances of his policies to everyone who suggested there might be flaws in them.

        • weka

          Do you mean that we could have laws that prevented Morgan from using the amount of money he did, and that this would put TOP on a more even playing field with other smaller parties. e.g. we’d have a range of small parties that would be available for coalition building.

        • mikesh

          He had the best policies, though not necessarily the most popular ones.

      • bwaghorn 3.1.2

        so you only like democracy when it suits you?

        • weka

          We get choices of different kinds of democracy. I’m not a great fan of what we have now, I think we can do better, but it’s certainly better than other kinds.

          I think we need to look at that in the context of centrist parties and how they control MMP esp in NZ’s history. Also the finance factor discussed above. If we were going to truly democratise our system, we should do so, and as I said above I’m sure I’ll come round to lowering the threshold again, but it is sobering to understand that voting TOP might hand National a 4th term.

          If you think examining all that means I only like democracy when it suits me, then you’re really not paying attention. Or perhaps you have a problem with my critiques of TOP. It’s hard to tell.

          • RedLogix

            Your critiques mainly focus on smearing Morgan because he is rich, white and male and in the heat of an election campaign he didn’t politely respond to you on twitter; when I carefully point out the substantial overlap of policy interests TOP has with the Greens you go all silent.

            Dirty Politics 2017 style

            If TOP have it so very wrong then exactly what are your objections to ideas and motives expressed here?


            • tracey

              Rich white and male… cos they are already under represented in the discourse. We need more, much more

              • RedLogix

                11 of 26 TOP candidates are women; not too shabby for first time out of the block.


                • tracey

                  I never heard or read anything from any except Morgan

                  • RedLogix

                    Much the same applies to all the other parties. In the case of Labour and National they naturally have a bit more depth at a senior level, but still how much did we hear from your average back-bencher from ANY party?

                    That’s not a comment on TOP, but more a about our personality-driven media circus.

                    Oh and if you are interested there are a range of TOP contributors here:


                    • tracey

                      No. I hear regularly from Gentner… and others. Morgan was always spokesperson.

                      He has some policies I favour and some I do not. But he needs to beware the one person party. He had sufficient money to command higher coverage than many small first time parties get. I understand he used his “image” to gain traction for a fledgling brand but even having a coleader would have help with the look of a one person party. And male led. We have lots of these. People deserve and need to see themselves reflected in their leaders ( which means all those seeking to represent us not just the party leader per se).

                    • RedLogix

                      Probably because being a Green supporter you listen for Green voices; equally I heard a bit from Geoff Simmons, Shannon Smith and Andrew Courtney. And being on their email list I was asked to participate in three or four different policy formation surveys. I certainly never had the sense TOP was all about Morgan and no-one else.

                      This is an example of the difference between values and interests. Its clear that you place a high weighting on ‘inclusiveness and diversity’ of representation, and mark down TOP because they haven’t front footed that dimension. (Still if you look at their candidate list, for just 26 people they seemed to get a fairly representative slice of NZ.)

                      When it comes to policy interests there is a lot for the average Greenie to identify with … but when intangible values outbid concrete interests … the result is a stalemate. And equally I guarantee you there is at least one or two Green party policies you don’t quite gell with, but your happy to discount that because you place a high value of the manner in which the Greens operate and the values they project.

                      This is all quite normal. Almost everyone is like this; we mostly vote for people who we like, people who we feel align with our own values and vision for our lives. I quite like GM; he’s the kind of grumpy, generous, flawed bundle of contradictions I like in a man, so I don’t have the same values resistance to TOP that you do. I get that.

                      But if we place 100% weighting on values and personalities we’re only doing tribalism. The actual work of politics is about the pragmatic negotiation of interests, the framing of the agenda, promoting ideas and grinding out the details of policy.

            • weka

              Attacking me and misrepresenting my views instead of engaging with the ideas seems to be your default position at the moment Red. The more that happens the less likely I am to respond to your comments about TOP.

              Your critiques mainly focus on smearing Morgan because he is rich, white and male…

              Not really. e.g. if you look at the post on the Youth UBI, it’s mostly about the problems with the policy. You can attempt to write off my critiques as smears, but I’ll stand by my history and ability to argue the points on TS.

              … and in the heat of an election campaign he didn’t politely respond to you on twitter;…

              Again, not quite right. The first attempts were earlier in the year, and it wasn’t just me, it was lots of people. Politeness, lol, I’ve been on TS for years. Again, you’re trying to marginalise may actual arguments by writing them off as something they’re not.

              …when I carefully point out the substantial overlap of policy interests TOP has with the Greens you go all silent.

              Since when has anyone on TS been obligated to respond to anyone else’s random comment? The comment you link to is a reply to Draco.

              There are so many problematic things about TOP, but my experience of discussing TOP with you is that a chunk of the time you engage well, a chunk of the time you don’t, and in the end you resort to this sort of bullshit undermining.

              It’s also been my experience that instead of addressing the points raised, often in conversations about TOP it becomes about how they’re Good. I’m much more interested in addressing the problems.

              • RedLogix

                Attacking me and misrepresenting my views instead of engaging with the ideas


                • weka

                  Red, I literally took what you wrote and responded to it by pointing out where I think you are wrong and telling you what I think instead. If you think I am wrong in my view of your comment, then by all means address the points. Otherwise all I’m seeing is you writing off my long term critiques with misleading statements that I’ve clarified.

          • mikesh

            In other words we should choose rules that prevent parties that you happen not to like don´t get in. That´s pretty undemocratic of you!

          • bwaghorn

            no i don’t mind you having a prob with top . i was thinking about the threshold the other day and think 5% is fine

            • weka

              My main problem is that there are still too many NZers who don’t really understand how MMP works (and the reasons why that is), and that we’ve had a pretty macho/powermongering version of MMP in large part thanks to Winston Peters. Those are cultural problems, rather than structural ones like the threshold %. I think the system can be improved but only if we address the cultural side as well.

        • rob

          Certainly like a little democracy in ECAN!

      • Rae 3.1.3

        TOP is an odd mixture of ideas. What could be more left wing than a UBI?

        • Andre

          UBI gets a lot of support from right-wing types as well. Because it makes it easier to implement … ahhh … business-friendly flexible employer-employee relations.

          • RedLogix

            Like any policy tool a UBI can be used or abused. For instance, just because welfare has been set below liveable levels by a succession of governments, doesn’t justify any argument for abolishing it. It just means we’re doing it wrong and it needs fixing.

            business-friendly flexible employer-employee relations

            The other way of looking at a UBI is that it gives households more flexibility in how they participate in the labour market. While the UBI may not by itself be enough for a individual to live on long-term; combined with other tax reform it would make a big difference to people choosing not to be in paid employment for a period … for whatever reason.

            This would give workers more options around walking away from abusive or shitty employers, the option to take time re-training, re-creation, re-investing socially in whanau or community and so on. It also fundamentally recognises the contribution of child care and allows parents flexibility in choosing how they want to arrange the balance between work and family.

            Viewed this way a UBI can be a very worker-friendly policy.

            • Andre

              Agreed. I’m quite an enthusiast for UBI, as lefties understand it. But I also think it’s important to understand what’s attractive about UBI to some right-wing types and how they might try to abuse it to their own ends.

              • RedLogix

                Not all right wingers are abusive arse-holes. If fact most aren’t; it’s just they place a different weighting on values and interests than lefties do.

                Politics is essentially a negotiating of interests; understanding what is attractive and valuable to all the people around the table is vital. Conservative, business-friendly, change averse people are not ever going to dissappear, they will ALWAYS be part of the political landscape.

                Attack someone and they will most likely respond in kind; make them an offer you can both work with, that appeals to their better instincts and you are always more likely to get a durable result. It’s just a matter of designing and implementing a UBI so that everyone sees something in it of value to them.

                • Sure, but a UBI in the hands of a right-wing government is could potentially be Ruthanasia on steroids. You don’t need all right-wingers to be abusive, you just need one or two in an influential position to start crushing the poor, or anyone else in need of state assistance.

                  • RedLogix

                    Should send someone back in time to Mickey Savage’s government and tell them that they shouldn’t introduce the welfare state because Ruth Richardson?

      • patricia bremner 3.1.4

        I agree Weka. It should be difficult for hard right or hard left to get established.

        Rorts should be removed with a one cycle warning. To have a party should be at least 2 members or 4%. No extra funding ’till that threshold.

        • mikesh

          [ It should be difficult for hard right or hard left to get established. ]

          Don´t you think the electorate should have the chance to decide for themselves the question of who gets in.

          By the way TOP are hardly ¨far right¨. They advocate taking a stronger position on combatting global warming, and also on other environment issues. They are also strongly in favour of recognising maori rights and the treaty. Their main thrust is tax reform, where they advocate measures far more equitable than the system we have at present.

        • weka

          “It should be difficult for hard right or hard left to get established.”

          I disagree with that though. My point was about the hard centre 😉

          I think it’s far better to have Act exist rather than them be assimilated into the National Party. Noticed how many fundamentalist Christians there are in National now that the Conservatives are gone?

          Also, I want parties like Mana in parliament. The more representation we have the better. The problem is how power gets shared. At the moment NZ has a history of small parties having a lot of power. But we’re also stuck in a FPP mentality re the N/L duopoly.

    • tracey 3.2

      I do not mind coat tailing. We just need to have all parties suggesting it otherwise indquality happens. And ACT at .5% and with lots of money and contacts then get a disproportionate amount of media coverage

      • Andre 3.2.1

        So all minor parties should become craven supplicants to a major party in hopes of being gifted an electorate seat?

        • tracey

          So when Labour and Greens didnt have an agreement for Greens to not stand in Ohariu that was not ok? See, I think it was.

          • Andre

            I’d much rather get rid of the threshold and change to a modified St Lague for allocating seats. Or at least dramatically lowering the threshold. But failing that, I agree that left parties should become just as pragmatic as the right about working with the quirks of what we have.

      • mikesh 3.2.2

        Coat tailing is not unfair in itself, inasmuch as it allows a party with less than 5% of the vote to receive the number of seats appropriate to its party vote if it wins a constituency seat. What is unfair is that parties who don´t win a constituency seat (and don´t get 5%) miss out altogether. If we reduced the threshold to zero all parties would receive the seats their party vote entitled them to and coat tailing would become a non issue.

        • tracey

          Agree. And agree with a comment from Red blooded on this thread in this light.

          Regardless of what I might think of the Conservative Party it got 4% of the vote and the voices it represented got nothing. ACT on .5% got bully boy rights on all minor debates, disproportionate media exposure for its single rep and associated mouthpieces. That is inherently wrong.

    • ACT doesn’t coat-tail anymore. They have 1 MP, “coat-tailing” is what the Māori Party did to bring Marama Fox into Parliament.

      I think setting the threshold reasonably low (between 0.8%-2%) would allow for the demise of weak parties like ACT while still making it possible for smaller parties to enter Parliament directly via the list with a strong campaign.

      Looking at TOP, who barely scored over 2% with millions of dollars donated from Gareth Morgan, I would call 2% still a relatively high threshold to cross for a new party, and would recommend starting at 1% (a number so low that clearing it almost guarantees a second list seat) and consider lowering it to 0.8% later. (Approximately the amount of the vote you need to win a list seat outright)

      • tracey 3.3.1

        Agree @ 2%. I embrace the idea of TOP, or any party over 1.5/2% having a voice.

        • I would personally consider even 2% to be aggressively high and simply a sop by Labour and National to the continued existence of the Greens and New Zealand First, rather than a proper reform of the threshold. 1.5% is probably the highest I’d want to compromise. Remember, TOP had millions in donations to get above 2%. For comparison, the Internet Party didn’t manage it, the Māori Party hasn’t polled above 2% twice in a row for years, and MANA never got that high, yet arguably they all deserved representation in Parliament at one point or another.

          The advantage of going lower is that you can actually then start reforms to stop small parties highjacking electorates as a way to get into Parliament, like abolishing the lifeboat rule, and even perhaps requiring single-seat candidates to run as independents if they want to be seated purely on their electorate vote.

          • Tracey

            Fair points

          • solkta

            But if the threshold were lower then the probability of a party reaching it would be improved and more people would then be prepared to gamble their vote on the better odds. Had the threshold this election been 2% and with TOP pulling 1 to 2% in the polls it is probable they would have got more like 3 or 4%.

            • Matthew Whitehead

              This is true, but we don’t know how much that effect is likely to happen, and TOP is probably the ideal best case for a new entrant party under the current system, that wasn’t hamstrung by being seen as engaging in shady electorate deals or electoral alliances, and whose message was only somewhat undermined by the eccentricity of its wealthy party leader who aggressively bankrolled its campaign. I’ve argued before that we could lower the threshold to 2% with a further independent review to decide if it should go down again, which I’d be happy with, but I will point out that the last independent review blatantly ignored sensible submissions on the threshold and recommended a highly conservative posture of lowering it to 4%, citing concerns with “stability” unironically. If the threshold prevented unstable parties from entering Parliament we wouldn’t have NZ First.

          • mikesh

            Some consider a party with only a single MP ineffectual, whereas a 2% threshold would ensure that any party getting in on the party vote would normally have at least three MPs. There is something to that argument, but I still would prefer a zero threshold as that would encourage voting for very small parties inasmuch as it would minimise the ¨wasted vote¨ factor.

            • Matthew Whitehead

              A non-threshold means you can get elected with 0.4% of the vote. ACT could lose Epsom in such a system and stay in Parliament right now. Joke parties have also done well enough in the past to be allocated a single list seat with no threshold at all.

              0.8% is a reasonable approximation of winning a List Seat outright. (ie. a one seat threshold) 1% is a simple number that is low enough to allow smaller parties in without impeding their ability to grow, and is pretty close to the 1.25%ish point where 2 MPs is all-but-guaranteed. (it can be as low as 1.1% depending on the wasted vote) If you want to guarantee an actual caucus, a threshold around 1.3-1.5% is probably reasonable. There is still no need for a 2% threshold, although I could support it as an interim measure if it’s necessary to bring Labour onside with electoral reform.

  4. Stuart Munro 4

    I think too that some consideration needs to go into reducing the power of parties to whip tightly, and to restoring the possibility of independent MPs.

    For all that our minor parties have not always covered themselves in glory, it is the draconian abuses of power by major parties that have created most of our contemporary problems.

    I can scarcely believe what a fuckup successive governments have made of what was once an enviably good and decent country.

    • Yeah, I think that’s reasonable. Technically MPs can simply notify their party that they intend to vote against a party vote measure and they are obliged to record it as such, but in practice whips often “don’t allow it.”

      I’ve often said we should consider every issue a conscience vote and that parties should have to construct their lists carefully to balance between their legislative and electoral priorities, and to make whips a meaningful part of Parliament. (it would also mean that you’d really have to trust your colleagues to hold your proxy in order to abandon late sittings of Parliament like is currently the practice in both larger parties)

  5. McGrath 5

    I feel that the 5% is too high. I’d reduce it to a 1% threshold and just have a 100 list seat parliament. Not sure on the stability but it would certainly be representative.

    • Pat 5.1

      potentially a parliament of 100 Auckland based MPs….truly representative

      • In practice the regions actually do pretty well for their population, Pat, and are arguably over-represented.

        • Pat

          whether that is true or not under current settings is irrelevant to the proposition put forward by McGrath

          • Matthew Whitehead

            I wasn’t replying to McGrath, I was replying to your assertion that lists pay no attention to regional NZ and are just huge amounts of Aucklanders, which is still relevant to his discussion because how representative the lists are of all New Zealand is relevant to how fair his proposal is.

            Your assertion isn’t true, there are plenty of regional MPs and MPs from other cities, too, who get elected purely from the list, or are put in a winnable list position in case they lose their electorate races, and list construction would be even more carefully considered for regional proportionality in a system with no electorate candidates, because failing to do so would lose you votes in regional NZ. Even the Green Party, which gets most of its votes from urban centres, tries to include a proportional number of South Island MPs on its list, because it wants to represent the whole country.

            • Pat

              “I was replying to your assertion that lists pay no attention to regional NZ and are just huge amounts of Aucklanders, which is still relevant to his discussion because how representative the lists are of all New Zealand is relevant to how fair his proposal is.”

              well then you are arguing out of context for I never stated that…my post was in reply to Mcgraths proposition as is clearly indicated….that you placed a mistaken context on it is not my problem

              • Except if you read my explanation carefully, you will see I am very much preserving the context of his suggestion that we go to a Closed List system. (a Closed List system is the party vote half of MMP, basically) I defended Closed Lists to you, saying they would not be all about Auckland, (although successful parties would likely give Auckland a fair number of MPs for its population, which is roughly equal to that of the entire South Island) and attacked the idea of reducing the size of Parliament to him as denying our growing population, as you will see in reply 5.4.

                Good grief.

                • Pat

                  good grief is right …you charge in making assertions about what you wish to believe i have claimed and when shown TWICE you are operating under a mistaken belief still refuse to acknowledge the error of judgement….if you are looking for an argument then at least have the nous to pick one that makes sense

    • One Anonymous Bloke 5.2

      The number of MPs should increase with population, so as to ensure that there is a reasonable level of access to representatives.

    • Paul Campbell 5.3

      Why not simply reduce it to 1/120th (or whatever the size of one seat is) make it independent of the issue of how big parliament should be. (my preference)

      Or you, if you like the idea of small, but representative, parliaments you could make parliament of varying size depending on the votes – “enough members such that it is the minimum number so that every party with 1% or more is represented within 0.75% of their actual party vote numbers” – that would let you have ACT with their 0.25% but a electorate seat, and Top with it’s 2.5%

    • So you support the same ratio of MPs-to-population that we had in 1993 then, right?

      In that case, we should be expanding Parliament to 131 MPs. 😉

  6. red-blooded 6

    I’d have to give more thought to the regional lists idea, but on first glance it doesn’t seem to me to make much difference. After all, the parties would still choose the lists, and there would be more MPs from more densely populated areas, in order to maintain the regional coverage. It seems to me that small cities like mine (Dunedin) wouldn’t do too well under this system. It also seems that it would be much easier for people from “safe” areas to make it into party leadership positions, regardless of whether they were the best people for the job.

    I’m all for following the recommendations of the Royal Commission. They did a decent job. I shudder to think of the Conservatives making it in last time, but I guess the alternative is to think that 4.4% of kiwis didn’t have their views represented in the way they had chosen in the election. If the threshold was 4%, NZF wouldn’t have had time out after the fuss about funding, and the Greens wouldn’t have been so scared this time. I’d even consider something like 2 or 3%. I don’t think we should entirely dump the threshold (should a party with 1000 votes be represented?) but it should be more achievable. It’s a bit worrying that the only new parties in recent times have either focused entirely on specially defined electorate seats (Māori Party) or have had rich backers (Conservatives, TOP, Internet…).

    • Yep, in fact, unless parties with strong urban votes deliberately moved regional candidates onto their stronger urban lists, you’d end up with less regional candidates. Seems like a poor idea for New Zealand where we don’t have large, populous states/regions like Germany or Scotland.

  7. Bill 7

    And does the writer favour the d’ Hondt system for seat allocation from the regions?

    I’m not going to try explaining it. Here’s a link 🙂

  8. Sabine 8

    how about you first help all people in NZ understand the principle of MMP and then go about changing it every few years to suit the needs.
    And then educate our so called educated class about the principles ofMMP, the system is not at fault just because National is bad at building a social network within its work place and other then that are also really crappy managers in day to day business.

    The only thing really wrong in this last election is Act somehow managing to get in while well below the threshold. So that is in my view the only thing that needs to be changed, reach 5% or else out. As for TOP, well they can spend the next three years filing out their policies, maybe even appear to not shout over people that may have a different opinion, find supporters, grow the Part and get in next time? OR would that be too hard to ask? As for the Maori Party, same thing do some soul searching as to why people did not vote for you. Maybe its literally to do with the well being of people and their ‘aspirations’ for their families and themselves that were generously overlooked over the last 9 years.

    • mikesh 8.1

      There is no overhang at the moment – though the specials may change that – so ACT must have received sufficient party vote to support one seat. We probably should find some way of getting rid of overhangs, perhaps by giving an overhang seat to the candidate who came second rather than to the candidate who came first.

      • ACT received about half the vote necessary for a single seat if you consider that number to be 1/120th of the party vote, but was rounded upwards to a list seat because Sainte-Laguë is quite generous to smaller parties, and if you win a single electorate you only need about 0.4% of the party vote to not have an overhang, and about 1.1-1.2% to earn your second list seat.

  9. Foreign waka 9

    We don’t need a new version of MMP – we need new MP’s. Big difference.

    • tracey 9.1

      New attitudes toward MMP and the consensus/relationships it requires with those with whom you do not agree on all things. Too many MPs and media applying FPP rationale to MMP. Onherently flawed thinking imo

      • mikesh 9.1.1

        A coalition between National and Labour would have some advantages. Each of the two would look for support from the minor parties to achieve its policies, so each policy would have to have majority support from parliament as a whole. Also, people would be more likely to vote for a minor party if they knew that their favoured major party would be part of the coalition. Not only that but there would be no small party in a ¨kingmaker¨ position.

        The idea of two major parties opposing each other is very much FPP thinking.

  10. chris73 10

    I’m not in favour of MMP as it is, even though I think Winston will go with National, that we’re in the situation of one party on 7% of the vote deciding the make up of the next government just isn’t right

    He can decide the following (well he can decide more but this should make my point)

    Labour/Winston/severely neutered Green

    and not even adding the option of sitting on the cross benches or giving c&s…could even go back to the polls if he really wanted, I mean sure he wouldn’t but thats a helluva lot of power for one person to wield

    So any attempt to change MMP would be supported by me because its not like this is the first time we’ve been in this position

    • Foreign waka 10.1

      Chris, the fact that no one is particular impressed with WP is not really the issue with the way a country is governed. It was the voters bid that created the situation. Obviously National has not the majority and hence has to govern in a coalition. Not the majority means that more people than 50% of the vote do NOT like to be governed as they were. And that is democracy. Anything else would be called a different name.
      As for NZ, it does has a somewhat bastardized version by having electorates MP in Parliament despite not getting through the threshold, i.e ACT. The amount of money that goes to the parties via donation opens it up for corruption too. So the system as such in terms of MMP is not the issue, but the amendments to make it work for the establishment is.

    • tracey 10.2

      NZF in conjunction with one or more parties determines our next government. Our next government will be represented by

      1 party with 46% and 1 with 7.5


      1 party with 35 and 1 with 7.5 and 1 with 5.9

      Both of those are more representative of the diversity of our country than

      Nats plus ACT plus UF were.

      Or is the underlying objection that people have a game not a consensus mentality and want to know the winner? Lets be patient. Wait to see what negotiations reveal and then start hand wringing.

    • But one marginal electorate comprising about 1-2% of the country deciding the fate under FPP was okay? We have actually progressed a lot in terms of distributing out the centre of power under MMP, and now it belongs less than ever to critical electorates and more to the Party Vote, where it should be.

      7% of voters being critical because they voted for a centrist party that refused to align itself with a bloc pre-election is what New Zealand voted for. I think it’s actually very anti-democratic to say that MMP is the problem there so much as the fact that people keep supporting NZ First despite their refusal to commit to any formal and transparent process of determining who they’ll support, and that they only announce it after the election.

      There is no reasonable change to MMP that would reduce NZ First’s power. It comes of being a significant centrist bloc (or rather, a conservative-leftist party that can work with either our liberal-centreleft party and its bloc, or our moderate-rightwing party and its libertarian hanger-on. It’s a little tricky to place NZ First economically as they’re left-wing on spending but right-wing on taxes, lol)

      Just because 90% or so of the country passionately hates winston right now doesn’t mean that 7% deserve to lose their representation. If we really want Winston gone, we need to run a campaign that convinces his voters he’s a poor option.

      • Baba Yaga 10.3.1

        “There is no reasonable change to MMP that would reduce NZ First’s power. ”

        I agree. The problem with much of the media commentary at present is that it is still steeped in FPP thinking, and it’s implication that there should be an evident single party ‘winner’. We are not well served by much of the media analysis, regrettably.

  11. CoroDale 11

    This regionality is a good idea, but NZ is difficult to divide. For 8 regions like Scotland, or less, would Northland go with the Bay of Plenty? Similar complexity with the West Coast and South Island.

  12. Stuart Munro 12

    One obvious reform to our existing version of MMP is to more tightly define what is, and what is not, a party leader. This was exploited by the incumbents to distribute public monies to undeserving ‘leaders’ like Peter Dunne and David Seymour.

    At the very least a leader should have followers. Dunne had had none in living memory, and Seymour’s party suffers from an oversupply of aspiring leaders and a dearth of loyal followers.

    I think a regime where the party leader pay bump required a second MP would not be unduly onerous – though it might be fair to credit vigorous contestation of a number of electorates in lieu thereof.

  13. The Chairman 13

    “We need a new version of MMP”

    Only if you want to tinker around the edges.

    If you genuinely want the state to be more representative of voters, a form of Direct Democracy is what we should be looking at.

    • Direct democracy is appropriate to trial at local levels.

      There are significant problems to using it for high-stakes issues at a national level, especially for issues that include human rights concerns. (think how many liberals in Australia are opposed to a referendum on marriage equality, for instance, because they believe that straight people should not be allowed to vote against gay people’s rights. That is the sort of situation direct democracy lands us in frequently.)

      • The Chairman 13.1.1

        A logical form would incorporate safeguards such as the human rights act, The Treaty, etc… to overcome and protect against those concerns.

        • And you trust direct democracy to objectively handle things like appointing people to run the various ministries, and making swift emergency responses?

          It’s just not a practical system to make every single national decision by popular vote and get good decisions out of it, especially because even passionate and informed voters suffer decision fatigue. You require some sort of delegation to a representative, if not, say, 120 of them. 😉

          You realize some people already complain that one general election every three years is too many and they don’t like it? Imagine how ticked off those people would be with every little issue going to referendum.

          • Stuart Munro

            Short term citizen juries have the virtue that they tend to be less compromised than career politicians. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/1467-9248.00250/full The Netherlands have used them I understand.

            • Incognito

              That’s correct, it is called “burgerjury”. Still experimental though – the Dutch are experimenting with democracy, citizen participation & say, local governance. I guess in that country there’s more potential conflict that requires more and different creative approaches, i.e. it is borne out of necessity I believe.

          • KJT

            Switzerland already has a working system of direct democracy.

            Parliament still makes day to day decisions. But they have to ensure they are well supported and effective or they can be overturned by referenda.

            • Matthew Whitehead

              Yeah, Switzerland makes DD work as a supplementary measure which I could respect, but I’m not particularly in favour of because it’s SO easy to mis-manage.

          • The Chairman

            A logical (thus practical) form would still have an elected representative party, thus wouldn’t have every minor issue or ministerial appointment going to referendum. Lessening the chance of voter fatigue.

            Exemptions could be made for emergency responses, with issues being revisited once the need for urgency ceases.

            While improvements could be made to MMP, if we genuinely want the state to be more representative of voters we have to consider how voters can have more say on the major issues. Sure, there will be hurdles, but if we put our heads to it, we could construct a form to overcome them. Delivering a more inclusive and more democratic system than what we currently have. Which, of course, should be our aim.

      • KJT 13.1.2

        And you trust it with 61 politicians?

        • I think 60ish would be too few if you didn’t drastically decrease their workload, and also make it difficult to get a representative cross-section of NZ in all the relevant areas.

          But no, I’m not a huge fan of it on a national level. I think we should let the representatives do their job there, and delegate more decisions regionally and locally, and make THOSE authorities more democratic first.

  14. RC 14

    I think MMP needs a good overhaul every election is run like it is FPP rather than a coalition of parties forming a government and thats because of the voters not electoral system. Just look at Northland if you want to see brain dead tribalism in action. I’m not so sure it is the elderly or mostly the elderly who want a return to FPP either because plenty were smart enough to vote for NZF and get their gold cards in the past so it makes me wonder how well Kiwis in general are being educated on MMP.

  15. Incognito 15

    Very good post, thank you!

    MMP should stay but it needs to be refreshed.

    I’d abandon MMP for a single-vote proportional representation system without a threshold altogether. This is likely a step too far for New Zealand as it won’t allow for regional representation.

    However, as it stands, regional politics encourage tribalism and are often dominated by the major parties in an FPP run-off way.

    At the same time, national politics is way too centralised and too much power is taken away from the people and local communities.

    Therefore, I’d strongly favour a shift of power & responsibilities to local and regional/provincial level.

    It ain’t gonna happen, of course, as NZ is intrinsically a politically-conservative nation (I won’t even mention courage and leadership) – it didn’t use to be …

    Minor parties are important because they provide representation to views and policies that cannot always be accommodated in the two super parties.

    Again, I’d go further and say that very rarely major parties strongly advocate for minority views & interests and funnily enough when it happens it usually coincides with election time …

    But this is indeed a very strong argument for the presence of more minor parties in Parliament and against ‘broad churches’.

  16. From the number of comments there is a lot of interest in our electoral system. And a lot of individual opinions. How, as New Zealanders, do we come to an agreed position or at least a position we can all live with for the time being. Could we not assign the task of coming up with modifications to MMP to a citizens’ assembly chosen by lot? Before everybody jumps in with opinions recall that such assemblies, though never tried in New Zealand, are widely used and widely respected as showing that randomly chosen citizens’ assemblies or juries perform responsibly and well, and that the sponsoring authorities, whether local or central government, often implement the resulting recommendations. We need to see whether, and how, such assemblies might work in New Zealand, by trying them out before we sound off.

    • Andre 16.1

      Or we could set up a commission to examine that question, call for submissions from the public, have the commission make provisional recommendations based on public feedback, get public comment on those provisional recommendations, submit a final report and recommended changes for Parliament to consider. Oh, wait…

      • John Stowell 16.1.1

        The difference is that a people’s assembly or jury is selected by lot, not appointed, and listens to experts, stakeholders etc as part of informing itself before getting into discussion. The sponsor,usually a public body, government minister or the like, undertakes only to respond publicly and in detail to each and every recommendation. Experience has shown that in many cases recommendations have been acted on and found to be highly acceptable in democratic terms. Again, it is quite different from soliciting public submissions to official proposals, which is often done without any commitment to feedback from authority and is usually highly unrepresentative of the population at large. Of course, government can ignore recommendations, and often does. But if we can build up a body of evidence that people’s assemblies produce good recommendations with good democratic credentials then we may in time be able to improve the way our government works.

    • lprent 16.2

      If we don’t “sound off” then nothing ever gets presented, demolished and argued about well before anything ever happens. In other words – coming up with the kinds of ideas and examining them in public.

      Besides, as far as I can see such “assemblies” look like an excellent way to presuppose desired outcomes by “sponsoring authorities” because of a lack of previous analysis looking for holes.

      After all if you look at things like the committees for the flag referendum, various commissions, various forums, and various inquiries over the decades – the defining characteristic has usually been that they come out with the expected results because that was the way that their terms of reference were framed. Certainly this last government has been well known for creating things like the productivity commission, land and water forum, and a number of others to come up with implemented results that look to have been predetermined by the government.

      Perhaps you’d like to put up some links to good examples of your assemblies so that others can dig out the criticism of them. Let us make up our own minds rather than just having you pontificate…

  17. and for a summary of experience in Canada and Australia (there being no experience in New Zealand to be summarised) go to Claudia Chwalitz’s paper, which can be downloaded as a pdf from the Policy network site. It also summarised the salient characteristics of people’s assemblies, how they work and how they are organised.

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