Saturday's referendum on the electoral system did more than just embed MMP, subject to the tinkering recommended by an Electoral Commission review. It also, by implication, enhanced the case for the term of Parliament to be increased from three to four years.

The argument against this has always been that in a country with few constitutional restraints on the power of the Executive, a short term affords the electorate one strong means of restraint.

If proportional representation promised to be an equally effective safeguard, its popularity had yet to be confirmed. Now, with the substantiation of MMP's broad acceptance, the time is right to reconsider a four-year term.

The thought is not new. In the most recent referendum on the subject, in 1990, 69.3 per cent of those who voted opposed the notion. That rejection must, however, be placed in context. It was held at the tail-end of a two-term Labour Government whose disdain for the public view led eventually to the introduction of MMP.


Politicians were held in particularly low esteem, and people were in no mood to endorse a device that would make governments even less responsive to the electorate.

Things are different now. John Key has proved a particularly popular Prime Minister, in large part because he has kept such a close eye on public sentiment. His first term, however, provided a graphic illustration of the deficiencies of a three-year Parliament.

Traditionally, these involve a first year spent settling in, the second tackling a stack of legislation, and the third preparing for the coming election.

The work of Mr Key's Administration was hindered further by the aftermaths of the Christchurch earthquakes and the Pike River disaster. His experience provided a compelling case for a four-year term.

The topic will be examined by the constitutional review panel set up in August at the behest of the Maori Party. But, after gauging public opinion, it is not due to make its recommendations on this and an array of other issues until September 2013.

There is good reason to hold a referendum well before then.

There is also a very good chance that far more people will recognise that three years is anomalous with the situation in the United States and Europe, where four or five-year terms are the norm, and that an extended period would provide added stability and more considered and effective government.

There will, of course, be those who fear the surrender of any measure of voter sovereignty. But their qualms relate to the behaviour of politicians under the first-past-the-post voting system. All the elections held under MMP have resulted in no party being able to govern outright. Governments have had to consult widely and to accommodate a broad range of views. Helen Clark, who belatedly became an advocate of a four-year fixed term, and Mr Key have both proved adept at managing this and providing stable government.


Four years would provide governments with a far more realistic time frame for implementing policies. In particular, there would be fewer of the short-term policies designed to produce a quick blip in economic performance. And there would be more time for the public to assess whether particular initiatives are working.

The opening of workplace accident insurance to private competition, rushed in by National in 1999 just before it lost power, is just one example of a policy that was overturned before there was a fair analysis of its impact.

There is good reason to believe there would now be a more positive response to a referendum on a four-year term. Most of the previous objections no longer apply. It should be the next plank in the establishment of a more effective government.