Helen Clark and John Key will be abused by all the smaller parties for their refusal to share the stage in televised election debates. The Greens co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons calls it "an affront to democracy". Act leader Rodney Hide says the "old club" is back to its bad habits. All of them accuse the two main contenders of undermining MMP.
Most of the public probably take quite a different view. At the last election 80 per cent of voters chose Labour or National. The other 20 per cent spread their votes between a plethora of small parties, only two of which - New Zealand First and the Greens - received slightly more than 5 per cent. It is therefore ridiculous to treat the major party leaders as just two of eight politicians on the same platform.
Jim Anderton represents no MPs besides himself, Mr Hide and Peter Dunne represent themselves and one other. Mr Dunne's erstwhile third member, Gordon Copeland, has joined another emigre from United Future to form a Kiwi Party whose leader would no doubt like to be on the stage too.
Television debate producers have long had difficulty drawing the line. Last time TV3 tried to draw the line at Mr Anderton and Mr Dunne the pair got a court ruling requiring their inclusion. This time a judge is less likely to interfere. The decision has been made by the two party leaders who have told TV3 and TVNZ they will do only head-to-head debates.
They need make no apology for that. Theirs are the only parties capable of forming a government. Far from undermining MMP, their joint decision is perfectly in line with the way MMP has developed in this country. After 12 years, the voting system has not produced a three- or four-party contest as it did in Germany, the only close model.
There, the two smaller parties each attract around 10 per cent of the vote and can claim significant places on the stage at each election. The most successful of our smaller parties have half that support and it becomes harder to argue that they should be included in televised debates while others should not.
Before our minor parties protest their exclusion too much, they might contemplate their own contribution to the way MMP has worked out. They have been wary of entering the formal coalitions that the system was thought most likely to produce. They have preferred to do deals that involve one major party governing with the support of one or more of them, who are rewarded with a few trophy policies and a ministerial role outside the Cabinet for the party leader.
The arrangement has political benefits for them - the supporting parties can preserve their distinction from the governing party and survive in their own right. The last party that entered a formal coalition - the Alliance with Labour - disappeared from Parliament at the next election. But survival has come at a price. Elections have become a two-tier contest.
The two parties vying to become the next government are on one tier. The smaller parties are in a contest of their own, vying to cannibalise enough of the nearest big party's support to survive and possibly be part of the equation that decides which party will govern.
National and Labour have a legitimate shared interest in minimising third-party influence. They are under no obligation to let minnows enjoy their limelight. They obviously see their prospects best served by a simple two-sided debate. The rest will no doubt get a separate televised forum for their contest.
Unless one or two of them can build a national constituency rather larger than they have done to date, they will often be ignored. Voters will be grateful for the straight Clark-Key match. It is the one that matters.