John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

John Armstrong: MMP changes bad news for National

Prime Minister John Key addresses National Party annual conference. Photo / Michael Craig
Prime Minister John Key addresses National Party annual conference. Photo / Michael Craig

The Electoral Commission's proposals for revamping MMP are bad news for National.

The major changes advocated by the commission - the abolition of the one-seat threshold plus the reduction of the party vote threshold from 5 to 4 per cent - were all opposed by National in its submission to the commission's MMP review.

National can probably live with a smaller party vote threshold, however. Indeed, a lower bar for entering Parliament would be of considerable help to a potential National ally - Colin Craig's Conservative Party.

As witnessed by the infamous Epsom tea-party in last year's election campaign, National has exploited to the maximum the rule which negates the party vote threshold if a party wins an electorate. National - unlike Labour - has used this exemption to do deals to avoid votes on the centre-right going to waste where an ally has failed to top 5 per cent.

Abolition of the exemption would thus be to National's considerable disadvantage.
What will really disturb National is the commission's proposal to absorb so-called "overhang "seats into a fixed 120-seat Parliament.

Had such a rule been in place at last year's election, the net effect of that proposal would have been to reduce National's total seats by one, making it dependent for a majority on getting the Maori Party on board to govern, along with Act and United Future. National currently has a one-seat majority with with Act and United Future's support.

The proposals leave the ruling party with a headache. Does National enact them holus bolus to its own potential cost? Or does it ignore the commission's work and risk looking hugely self-serving?

As the commission states in its proposals paper, it has concluded that relatively few changes to MMP are required. But it stresses the proposals it is making are important in "greatly enhancing public confidence in the fairness and operation of MMP".

That is the closest the commission comes to saying that Government knows what it ought to do. Whether the commission's mana and authority will outweigh National's self-interest is now the question.

- 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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