David Farrar

The week in politics with centre-right blogger David Farrar

David Farrar: The future of MMP

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Can an aspiring MP can be both an electorate candidate and a list candidate? Photo / File
Can an aspiring MP can be both an electorate candidate and a list candidate? Photo / File

Today is the deadline for those who wish to appear in person before the Electoral Commission to send in their submissions on its review of the Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) Electoral System. If you do not wish to appear in person, then you can still send in a written submission up until the end of May.

The recommendations the Electoral Commission makes to the Government may or may not be adopted, but they will at a minimum ensure a debate on their recommendations. Some of the issues they will consider could have a significant impact on what Parliament and Governments will look like in the future.

One controversial issue is whether an aspiring MP can be both an electorate candidate and a list candidate. Many people have complained that they don't like defeated electorate candidates still becoming an MP through the party list, and then acting as a shadow electorate MP. However banning dual candidacies would mean that party lists would have few senior MPs on them, as most senior MPs hold electorate seats.

Political parties like dual candidacies as it incentivises electorate candidates to also campaign for the party vote. It also allows them to protect MPs they do not wish to lose.

Another key issue is whether the party vote threshold of 5% should be changed. Some advocate there should be no threshold, so that any party that gains enough votes for even one seat should make it into Parliament.

If this had applied in the past, then in 1996 the Christian Coalition would have gained five MPs, and the Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party (ALCP) two MPs. In 1999 Christian Heritage would have got three MPs, ALCP one MP and Future New Zealand one MP.

A no threshold rule would have seen four extra parties in 2002 - Christian Heritage, Outdoor Recreation and the Alliance would have got two MPs each and ALCP one MP. In 2005 the Destiny Church Party would have gained an MP.

The last two elections would also have been different. In 2008 the Bill & Ben Party would have gained an MP (Bill, or Jamie Lineham) along with the Kiwi Party. NZ First would have keept five MPs. Finally in 2011 the Conservative Party would have gained three MPs, and the ALCP one MP.

If you think Parliament would have been better if those parties had gained representation, then you have the chance to tell the Electoral Commission to lower the threshold, or abolish it.

Another issue for the Electoral Commission is whether it should recommend the electorate seat threshold, where a party than gets less than 5% of the party vote can still be eligible for List MPs if they win an electorate seat. Many say this leads to tactical voting in seats such as Epsom. However if the law was changed, then Parliament would have more over-hang seats and would have been 126 MPs in 2011, 128 MPs in 2008 and 127 MPs in 2005.

The other major issue is who should rank the candidates on a party's list - the party, or the public. MMP currently has "closed" lists where the party solely determines the order of candidates on its list, and who gets a winnable place.

Under "open" lists voters could choose to apply their own ranking to the list candidates. So if a voter greatly disliked a candidate ranked very highly by their party, they could still vote for the party, but vote to move that candidate to the bottom of their list. Alternatively if you were a great supporter of a local candidate who has a very poor list ranking, you could promote them to the top of their party list.

However there is a real question mark over whether many voters would want to spend the time, or have the knowledge, to change the rankings of candidates. Already many people complain about having to rank dozens of people for the District Health Board elections.

Issues such as vote thresholds, dual candidacies and open lists may seem very dry and technical issues for some people. But the decisions about them can have a very significant impact on our democracy. They may change who gets to form the Government after an election. They may change how many parties are needed in a coalition in order to govern. They may even impact how stable a Government is, and whether or not they last for a full parliamentary term. Hence it is important that people have their say.

The MMP review website is here.

*David Farrar is a centre-right blogger and affiliated with the National Party. A disclosure statement on his political views can be found here.

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