Electoral review and mixed-member disinformation
Political parties are universally distrusted.
The level of distrust varies, but the 83.2% of Seoul residents in their 20s and 30s recently surveyed who considered no political party supported their interests is reasonably representative. This dissatisfaction is behind some of the enthusiasm for dumping mixed member proportional, with its emphatic emphasis on party proportionality.
Intuitively, many voters feel that elected representatives should work together to devise the best possible policy. But the answer is not to be found in systems that reflect voters’ party preferences with less fidelity; the remedy involves more democracy, rather than less.
Following Aotearoa’s first proportional election 15 years ago, Winston Peters shamelessly played the two largest parties off against each other to wring the greatest amount of power for his fledgling New Zealand First Party. At the following election, both colluding parties (National and New Zealand First) were punished severely. In 2005 Peters repeated the travesty, this time with the Labour Party. Again, the colluding parties were caned at the following election, and only time will tell whether Labour’s penance will be nine years, as proved to be National’s period lost in the political wilderness.
By blaming the mixed member proportional system for this outcome, the real culprits are let off the hook. The culprits in each instance were clearly the two large parties. Newcomer New Zealand First was guilty, but only of opportunism. In 1996 and again in 2005, neither National nor Labour were given a mandate to lead the country. The only honourable, and pragmatic, course that should have been contemplated following those ambiguous elections was for grand coalitions to be formed. This would have ensured that the minor parties could participate, but not dictate.
Because it calls for multi-member electorates, some see single transferable voting as a system that might inherently foster non-partisan behaviour between representatives. While it may, unless the electorates were enormous, the minor parties would be short-changed. For the Green Party, for example, to have its actual share of representatives, Aotearoa in its entirety would form just one electorate. This is the case with the Australian Senate, where each state forms an electorate, and consequently the Australian Greens account for nine of the 76 senators.
If Aotearoa was to adopt one of the other three options, its Green Party supporters would be better to disband their party, because by splitting the vote in what would be basically a two-party system, they would invariably, inadvertently, support the National Party—the bête noire of the average the green voter.
Had it been robustly designed, the referendum would have afforded a valuable means of furthering New Zealanders’ discussion of their electoral system. The results would have provided a wealth of evidence for the Electoral Commission review, in the event one was held. Unfortunately, despite a possibly widespread misapprehension to the contrary, no review will occur if a majority of votes cast are in favour of changing to another voting system:
This [review will occur] if the Electoral Commission makes a declaration in accordance with section 20 that the option in Part A of the referendum voting paper favouring retention of the mixed member proportional representation voting system is supported by 50% or more of the valid votes cast in relation to Part A.
Thus, citizens with objections to specific aspects of mixed member proportional are being asked to trust it will be remedied to their satisfaction, or vote for no review and for an entirely different system.
Meantime, the supplementary member system is being touted as a less extreme form of mixed member proportional. This is shameless disinformation, because far from addressing the disproportionality of first-past-the-post, it adds to it. It is effectively a winner’s bonus—first-past-the-post on Viagra.
The smart choice: Vote to retain and change MMP.
The green choice: Vote to retain and change MMP.