Bruce Bisset: MMP turning politics into a circus


At risk of being pilloried by supporters of proportional democracy, the MMP system is turning New Zealand politics into a genuine circus - complete with elephants, high-wire acts, contortionists, and clowns.

Take your pick of who's which from Hone Harawira, Winston Peters, Colin Craig and that new ACT guy (he gets name suppression) who thinks incest is okay. With the biggest "attraction" being Kim Dotcom and his Internet Party.

The Mega-tycoon's not-so-subtle bid to avoid extradition to the US by becoming a parliamentarian is one thing, but targeting the 18-35 demographic with a supposedly "non-aligned" movement will do more harm than good to the main party for whom that demographic is "home": the Greens.

Arguably that's the point, since Dotcom is hardly a model of inconspicuous consumption. And any backer of John Banks has to be painted rabid right by inclination.

Which makes the mooted tie-up with Harawira's Mana Party ludicrous in the extreme. Surely the old activist's collective that is Mana's core would rather swallow acid than suck up to Dotcom for "profile".

A more likely marriage would be the internet and incest parties. If they could get their Act together.

Certainly Act needs saving, from itself as much as us, though even smarm king John Key should view having a cuppa with Dotcom to decide who gets Epsom as a teapot too far.

Rule out alliance with the Conservatives, if only because Colin Craig is so rabidly anti anything more progressive than Dark Age witch-hunts. As for Winston, he at least knows the difference between a genuine ringmaster and a wannabe puppeteer.

My point - leaving other oddities like Legalise Cannabis aside - is that this lot's apparent intent of making Parliament a dubious and dismal reality show gives proportional voting systems a bad name.

Traditional electorate-based parties - National, Labour, and Maori - must wonder quite what they've done to be assailed by such a rag-tag bunch of add-ons. Even the Greens, who might be list-oriented but at least have embraced the system for its qualities rather than its cracks, must wonder if this is the best we can manage.

Fact is, it isn't. MMP is a dog of a system, a mixed marriage between first past the post and true proportional representation that delivers neither one thing nor the other.

We were promised a review, but with the focused choice between the old or the new, voters have stuck with the change despite its faults. And since government has already turned down the Electoral Commission's sensible if cautious reforms, there's fat chance of improvement.

Which, from a democrat's perspective, is inadequate at best. Personally, I favour the Single Transferrable Vote system because it is regionally based, has no "wasted" votes, and allows for individuals, rather than parties, to be elected on merit.

Despite that it lessens party influence so got no real political support and very little media focus, STV was the most preferred alternate system (apart from FPP) in the referendum.

Critics claim it is hard to understand - yet how hard is it to list, say, half-a-dozen candidates in the order of your preference?

Voters aren't dumb, and if they're disaffected and not voting, the current incumbents are more to blame than the electoral system employed - although ultimately it's the voters' choice.

But the obvious faults of MMP exacerbate the trend to a big-top game show instead of a hard-working construction site, and this year's election will likely only make matters worse.

The true measure of political self-serving will come when we see how many of these clowns get invited to shore up a government.

That's the right of it.

Bruce Bisset is a freelance writer and poet.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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