The Electoral Commission has blown its once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to significantly enhance democracy. MMP will remain Mixed and existing Members are now even safer in parliament. Apparently, though, Proportionality can be sacrificed.
The report from the Electoral Commission is business as usual and the main party leaders will be pleased. The status quo has been protected and no major change is needed.
Except that we had the lowest voter turnout in our history.
Except the system will remain stacked so that only existing MPs can realistically form new parliamentary parties.
Except that many tens of thousands of party votes will continue to be discarded by a system which was supposed to make all votes count.
The Electoral Commission's advocacy of a threshold - albeit a slightly lowered one - is anti-democratic. A 4% threshold goes against the principles of proportionality and of democracy itself. It says that votes shouldn't be counted if they are for parties outside of the mainstream. If you vote for a party that has 3% support, your vote is deemed not worthy of counting. The original proposal for a threshold in the 1986 Royal Commission was, and continues to be, defended on the basis that there is a need to 1) keep any non-mainstream or radical parties out of Parliament, and 2) make government more stable. Both of these arguments were always anti-democratic and without any intellectual validity.
As blogger No Right Turn points out: 'Interestingly, more submitters favoured a lower threshold than favoured 4% (and as many favoured actual or effective abolition as favoured the second most popular category of 1 - 2.5%). Meanwhile, the actual evidence from NZ of the effectiveness of smaller parties, or their effects on government stability, does not seem to have been considered. I guess they decided that Graeme Edgeler's proposal of considering the pros and cons of the whole range was too much work, so instead we have the usual snobby, anti-democratic nostrums about the need to keep small parties out in the cold' - see: MMP review: They blew it .
The removal of the electorate seat exemption from the threshold is a populist proposal that could make the New Zealand Parliament even less proportional. A party that wins 3% of the vote and one electorate seat will be less represented than under the current system, potentially cancelling out any gains in proportionality from the 1% threshold reduction. There will be no more Epsom tea-parties, but those sort of deals have become politically toxic anyway. A high threshold also means the removal of the exemption will make it harder for electorate MPs to walk from the big parties to form new political movements.
Graeme Edgeler has tweeted that the proposal not to expand the size of parliament if there is an overhang would have given the Maori Party the balance of power in 2011. That means the party that is most over-represented in the parliament would have even more power. So, because we might temporarily have a few extra MPs, proportionality again needs to be sacrificed.
Much has been made of the thousands of submissions but clearly, and unfortunately, the self-interest of political parties will dominate the whole process - see: TVNZ's Politicians 'the loudest voices' in MMP review .
Other initial views on the recommendations:
'So timid' is David Farrar's response, particularly with regard to how party lists are made and dual candidacy - see: The Electoral Commission's draft.
John Key should actually be worried says John Armstrong - see: MMP changes bad news for National.
A very different view from Matthew Hooton, however, who argues that the Commission has likely just given National a third term as he predicts a National/NZ First/Conservative government, even if National's vote falls as low as 40% - see: MMP review report hands Key a third term .
The full report can be downloaded here and Claire Trevett and Kate Shuttleworth have a useful summary - see: Commission calls for MMP shakeup.
Other important or interesting political items today include:
* It has been a tough few days for David Shearer - see: John Armstrong's Arduous week saps Shearer's strength and Tracy Watkins' Shearer: The invisible leader. Labour's front bench needs to take much of the blame for the party's low profile writes Matt McCarten, naming and shaming the culprits - see: Opposition taking too long to sharpen its claws. There is other talent available to Shearer says Martyn Bradbury in Like 6.8% of NZ, the Labour Party front bench isn't working. History may have looked a bit different if Labour's current strategy had been adopted in the past speculates Scott Yorke (Imperator Fish): The Diary of ***** *******, Time Traveller And Labour Party Strategist
* The good, the bad and the politically ugly of the Maori Party's flagship Whanau Ora policy are examined in a series by Yvonne Tahana and Simon Collins - see: Whanau Ora: Urgent review follows abuse of scheme .
* I was on Q&A's panel on Sunday as the future of KiwiRail was examined - see TVNZ's KiwiRail eyes freight, won't subsidise passengers http://bit.ly/MUhCnL. Much is made of the taxpayer funding for the publicly owned rail company but it is peanuts compared to the massive taxpayer subsidy for road based freight - which doesn't seem to be very well targeted - see: Neil Reid's $12b plan is centred on roads to nowhere.
* ACC is under attack (again) - this time from its own minster - see: John Hartevelt's Minister furious over ACC's privacy stance.
* Plans are well under way for a major John Ansell-led campaign involving 'a series of brief, hard-hitting advertisements designed to incite "anger" in "hothead" voters. Treatygate aims to "expose the 40 year state brainwashing campaign that has distorted the history of Crown-Maori relations" - see Callum Fredric's "Treatygate" Rodney Hide may have jumped the gun - see: End the Treaty gravy train.
* Maori do not want ownership of water but rather are seeking rights that are already recognised and used under existing law according to Eddie Durie - see Newswire's Maori Council tries to reassure on water. Meanwhile there appears to be some friction between Ngai Tahu and the council's leadership - see RNZ's Claim Maori Council not consulting some members.
* And you thought the sales were about reducing public debt and a more efficient electricity sector. Apparently our capital markets desperately need the partial floats to prosper - see: Richard Meadows' Danger for markets if asset sales fall flat. No doubt many in the sector are inspired by the revelations of how Alan Gibbs made a fortune from the privatisations of the 80's.
* Finally, backbench MPs can make a real difference says today's Herald editorial - see: Bill on pokies shows how MPs can work.