In the end, the referendum was a stroll in the street for supporters of MMP, New Zealand's proportional electoral system.

Big business and High St retailers are warning MMP will continue to give undue power to "extremist or populist" politicians like Winston Peters, creating turbulence and uncertainty that harm the economy.

But "populism" is sometimes just a pejorative way of dismissing down-home popularity. And, if last night's partial count holds true, voters have told the new Government that MMP remains the popular choice.

Support for keeping MMP is running at 53.5 per cent. The final vote will be published on December 10.


This weekend on the glitzy Auckland street of Broadway, Newmarket Business Association chief executive Ashley Church warned that MMP was rendering the Government impotent, unable to take the tough decisions like building a second harbour crossing or dealing with the global debt crisis.

But across town on diverse Dominion Rd, MMP supporters Phil Goff and musician Don McGlashan were enjoying Mt Roskill's Santa Parade.

As local MP, Goff had already expressed his preference for MMP in the final leaders' debate.

McGlashan, who sang at the MMP campaign launch in Auckland last month, said MMP was a "grown-up electoral system for a grown-up country".

Once the final vote is counted, the Electoral Commission will appoint a group of independent commissioners to investigate ways to iron out some of MMP's perceived glitches.

Campaign for MMP spokesman Lewis Holden said he favoured getting rid of the "coat-tails" rule.

This allows a party that wins a single electorate seat to bring back five or six list MPs on the winner's coat-tails, even though the party doesn't cross MMP's usual 5 per cent vote threshold to win representation in Parliament.

That has created anomalies in past elections when parties such as New Zealand First won a single electorate - Peters in Tauranga, for instance - and were able to bring back several more MPs yet parties that won a higher share of the nationwide vote missed out on any representation.

The coat-tails rule culminated in the debacle around the Epsom "cup of tea" shared by Prime Minister John Key and Act candidate John Banks, as they collaborated in an attempt to stop National Party candidate Paul Goldsmith from winning the electorate because the Government wanted Act back as a potential coalition partner.

If the coat-tails rule is removed, there is likely to be discussion of lowering the threshold from 5 per cent to 4 per cent to maintain the voice of small parties in Parliament.

A third change to MMP could ban dual candidacy - running for an electorate and on the list - to avoid MPs who are turfed out of their electorate then returning to Parliament on the list.

But yesterday's result, if borne out on December 10, appears to have little to do with the technical minutiae of 5 per cent thresholds and tactical voting.

It is all to do with old-fashioned political divides: High St big business versus the community street carnival.

While at street-level there may be a belief that elections are about voting for representatives of the community, business leaders believe they are about electing effective governments that can make quick, tough decisions, unconstrained by negotiating with small coalition partners.

In Newmarket, Church characterised those decisions as "reforms that are unpopular but necessary".

He said retailers in Auckland were hurting, because MMP and small parties like the Greens had stalled progress on important Auckland transport infrastructure, such as the proposed CBD rail loop.

And some big economic reforms, like restructuring the state sector, had been similarly bogged down at the expense of GDP growth.

"There is less money in the economy," he said. "People aren't as wealthy and the retail community suffers."

Nats 'undermined plan'

Business-backed opponents of MMP have accused the National Party of undermining its own supporters' attempts to get rid of the voting system.

Vote for Change spokesman Jordan Williams said yesterday that National Party campaign manager Steven Joyce had "made a tactical decision that Prime Minister John Key should not lead an intelligent debate" on alternatives to MMP and First Past the Post.

Key has expressed personal support for the supplementary member electoral system - a hybrid between MMP and FPP that Williams' group also supports - but did not campaign for it.

And a source said the National Party campaign office "uninvited" Vote for Change members from National Party speaking engagements.

Williams was forthright: "It is a shame that our political leaders chose not to lead an intelligent discussion on the options between the extremes of MMP and first-past-the-post," he said.

"A huge number of MPs have told me they hate MMP but have been gagged by their parties from talking about it."