John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

John Armstrong: National faces tough decision on cosy deals

National leader Prime Minister John Key. Photo / Getty Images
National leader Prime Minister John Key. Photo / Getty Images

The commission has thrown down the gauntlet to National. The Electoral Commission deserves a huge pat on the back. The competing choruses of those who say it has not gone far enough and those who say it has gone too far would suggest it has things just about right.

In particular, in advocating the abolition of the one-seat threshold, the commission has thrown down the gauntlet to National.

Tactical voting is fundamental to MMP and it is impossible to rule out parties striking mutually-beneficial deals in the future. However, abolition of the one-seat threshold would go a very long way to ending cosy electorate "accommodations", like the one in Epsom between National and Act, which so infuriate voters.

Backers of the one-seat threshold point out it was a recommendation of the 1986 Royal Commission on the electoral system. That apparently means it cannot be touched.

However, members of the Royal Commission say they now regard the exemption as their one mistake.

The electoral commission has not been afraid to run counter to public opinion. It is not in favour of banning so-called "back door" MPs who return to Parliament via the party list following defeat in electorate contests. It backs this up by noting such occurrences are actually comparatively rare.

The commission has been wisely cautious in advocating a drop in the party vote threshold from 5 per cent to 4 per cent. It has surprised in recommending the abolition of the "overhang" whereby Parliament is expanded to cater for parties with more electorate seats than their overall proportional entitlement as determined by their party vote.

The commission wants those seats to be included in a fixed 120-seat Parliament. That would have resulted in National securing 58 seats at last year's election, rather than 59.

National would consequently now be relying on Maori Party support to govern - rather than solely Act and United Future's two parliamentary votes as now.

That will give National serious pause for thought. It can live with a 4 per cent threshold, not least because that ups the chances of Colin Craig's Conservative Party getting into Parliament at the 2014 election and, just as importantly, NZ First remaining. The combined effect of abolishing the one-seat threshold and the overhang is far more problematic. For starters, Act and United Future are hardly going to vote for legislation which would shut them out of Parliament in any number.

But that does not get National off the hook because Labour and the Greens would back such a measure.

Once the commission has made its final recommendations to Justice Minister Judith Collins by its October 31 deadline, implementation is solely a matter for the Government.

However, it has left National with the choice of upsetting its support parties or trying to explain why the one-seat threshold should remain when its preservation is so patently in both National's and their self-interest. Some choice.

- NZ Herald

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John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

Herald political correspondent John Armstrong has been covering politics at a national level for nearly 30 years. Based in the Press Gallery at Parliament in Wellington, John has worked for the Herald since 1987. John was named Best Columnist at the 2013 Canon Media Awards and was a previous winner of Qantas media awards as best political columnist. Prior to joining the Herald, John worked at Parliament for the New Zealand Press Association. A graduate of Canterbury University's journalism school, John began his career in journalism in 1981 on the Christchurch Star. John has a Masters of Arts degree in political science from Canterbury.

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