• Terry Dunleavy MBE, a writer of Takapuna, is a former chairman of the North Shore National Party.

In the welter of comment about coalition possibilities, little if any attention has been paid to the elephant in the political room - the profound unsuitability of MMP for New Zealand, and the consequent need to change it after yet another demonstration of that unsuitability.

In the early 90s when newly-installed National Prime Minister Jim Bolger signalled his intention to honour his pre-election undertaking to hold a referendum on proportional representation, Jim Anderton, MP for Sydenham, who had left the Labour Party ("I didn't leave the Labour Party, the Labour Party left me") to form first, NewLabour then the Alliance, pronounced proportional representation "the tyranny of the minority".

So it proved, right from its inception in 1996, when Winston Peters kept the country in suspense for weeks on end before deciding to coalesce his NZ First party with National.


Twenty-one years on, and nothing has changed. A system supposed to widen and add certainty to the "voice of the people" in general elections, in fact, once again narrows that voice effectively down to one man, generally acknowledged to be the sole decision-maker in his 7.5 per cent party, based on preliminary results.

Let it be acknowledged at the outset that Mr Peters has some justification for delaying his decision until the final results are declared on October 7.

Complaints that he is holding the country to ransom are not fair - it's not his fault, but that of the system under which he and other parties are required to operate.

For that we have to thank the Royal Commission on the Electoral System whose report in 1986 recommended adoption of the Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) system, adapted from Germany. Overlooked at the time, and since, was the profound unsuitability for a small compact country like New Zealand, of a system devised post-war for a large country comprising a federation of states, and imposed with the aim of preventing the possibility of another National Socialist (Nazi) party.

(The emergence in the latest German election of the populist Alternative for Deustchland [AfD] as third largest party in the new Bundestag, the first such ultra-right wing grouping since World War II is sure to raise questions about the effectiveness of MMP in achieving that initial objective).

In 1992, New Zealanders voted in a non-binding referendum on proportional representation, with 84.7 per cent voting to change, and 70.5 per cent preferring MMP. Voters had been given four options:

* MMP as recommended by the Royal Commission (which prevailed by a huge majority).
* Preferential voting (as used in Australia for the lower house)
* Supplementary Member (see later comment)
* Single transferable vote

The then National Government put a binding referendum - a run-off between the then existing First Past the Post (FPP) system and MMP - to the country in conjunction with the General Election in 1993.

In a turnout of 82.6 per cent of voters, 53.86 per cent voted for MMP, 46.14 per cent for retaining FPP.

There was widespread angst at the time that a question of such constitutional importance had been allowed to be decided by a simple majority of those who voted, when, if it had been put to Parliament, it would have needed affirmative votes of a minimum of 75 per cent of all MPs whether or not they were in the House for that vote.

The Bolger Government stuck to its word, and the next election in 1996 was the first under MMP.

By now, and spectacularly so this year, it has become obvious MMP fails to respect the will of the people by transferring the balance of power to a small minority party, in this case either NZ First or the Greens.

The time has surely arrived to say taihoa to this constitutional farce by giving to the party with the most votes the right to go to the Governor General for a mandate to establish a minority government, and then that government to negotiate with other parties for a majority of votes in the House, whether by formal coalition or agreement to support on votes of confidence and supply.

Alternatively, switch to a form of proportional representation more relevant and appropriate for a country of our size. Of those alternatives, the Supplementary Member (SM) system appeals most.

Under SM, there would be 120 MPs, and 90 electorates including the Maori electorates. Each electorate would elect one MP under FPP, known as the Electorate MP. There would be a separate party vote as at present for 30 list MPs, allocated according to the share of the party vote attained by each party, but unaffected by whatever number of electorate seats any such party has won.

Thus, SM would be similar to MMP in allowing for proportionality for minority parties, but the overall decision would lie in the hands of the voting public. We might not get the satisfaction of knowing on election night who our new government would be, but we'd certainly know by the following Monday.

Then we'd be back to the tyranny of the majority, which is what most of us understand to be the hallmark of democracy.