What oh what will the Electoral Commission recommend in its review of MMP? And will MPs be willing to play ball?

Remember how we voted to keep MMP last November? The off-shoot of that was the Electoral Commission having a look at how the system could be tweaked. That review's out tomorrow and many are expecting some positive changes.

The smart money is that the threshold for getting your party into parliament will drop from 5 percent to 4 percent. That will mean a little less wasted vote on some occasions.

In previous MMP elections, a party's got between 4 and 5 percent on three occasions: The Christian Coalition in 1996 (4.33%), New Zealand First in 1999 (4.26%) and New Zealand First again in 2008 (4.07%). That meant thousands of votes that went nowhere in parliament, so it makes sense.

Of course there's an argument it should go even lower, as people such as our own Andrew Geddis have argued. But the only political party backing that is Mana, which reckons it could go to 0.8%, about what a single seat is worth.

As Hone Harawira said on Q+A, "other factions within the community whose views are simply not getting in". A lower threshold would mean the chance for more voices.

But let's think practically about that. It would have meant a seat for Bill and Ben in 2008 and Destiny in 2005. Maybe that's well and good. Maybe if the threshold had been lower people would be careful with their vote and not back a joke party such as Bill and Ben.

Sure, it makes sense to lower the threshold to encourage new parties. Mana was the last new party to be born, and that was on the back of a defection from another party, not the rise of some new person or idea. But what other voices are missing from parliament? A Pacific party? Christians?

Does Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis deserve a seat? (It only got 0.5% last year so wouldn't even make it under Mana's plan. Although if sympathetic people had known it could get in, it may well have got an extra 0.3%). Do we want to risk more single issue parties?

New Zealand First wants the threshold kept at 5 percent, which seems altruistic given that it's cost them at two elections and a 4 percent threshold would make life easier for them. But it would also make life easier for the Conservatives, ACT and even United Future, so perhaps NZF is still suiting itself. (Although to be fair, it's always backed 5 percent).

Winston Peters says it offers more stability.

"I’ve seen the sort of MMP systems where they have very low thresholds and the thing’s chaos from start to finish".

The likes of Rob Salmond says there's no evidence of that.

Harawira also says a lower threshold would mean more voters. I'm not sure I buy that. I think people stayed away from the polls last year for all kinds of reason, and having the chance to elect the ALCP or Democrats or someone new will make little difference.

I suspect the public will cheer loudest for a recommendation to remove the coat-tailing one-seat rule that has seen ACT prosper so in Epsom (and UF to a lesser degree in Ohariu). It'll mean a slight hit to proportionality (one reason why curiously both National and the Greens oppose it), but it seems instinctively fairer to people who ask why Epsom should get to elect five MPs.

Perhaps the Commission will tell parties they should elect their own lists, or party member should have more say on list rankings. I can see pros and cons there. It's more democratic, but the party's committees and boards will have inside knowledge about candidates that the rank and file won't have, which may be significant. On the other hand it could stop leaders' favourites getting high rankings.

Then there's the ratio of electorate:list MPs. I'm tempted to have more electorate MPs than that current 70 out of 120. It's a move that would de-power the party machines a little, allowing a few more MPs to owe their loyalties to local folk rather than head office. That's a little simplistic, I know -- it's not like electorate MPs have a long history of independent action or thought in this country under FFP or MMP. for example. But it's a nudge in the right direction.

The parties will be reluctant, and a few more stroppy backbenchers could be just the ticket.

It seems to me that all parties will be under immense pressure to toe the line on this one. The Electoral Commission are like the pure oracles coming down from the mountain when it comes to this kind of thing. Having said that, we have a 5 percent threshold only because MPs ignored a royal commission, so there could be resistance.

National argued to keep coat-tailing and a 5 percent threshold, but as things are panning out the contrary may suit them very nicely. Bye-bye UF and ACT, hello Conservatives and potential king-maker New Zealand First. Though any push to have more democracy round lists could be strongly opposed.

The Commission have been tight as a drum on this one -- no-one, not even the MPs or party leaders, know what's in tomorrow's report. Believe me, I've been asking all over. So I and everyone else could be utterly wrong. But it'll be interesting to see what comes and how bold its willing to be.

What would you like to see change?

Comments (5)

by Graeme Edgeler on August 12, 2012
Graeme Edgeler

Mana ... reckons it could go to 0.8%, about what a single seat is worth.


But let's think practically about that. It would have meant a seat for Bill and Ben in 2008 and Destiny in 2005.


Does Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis deserve a seat? (It only got 0.5% last year so wouldn't even make it under Mana's plan...)

I'm afraid you can't have it both ways. If you are using Mana's ~0.8%, then:

  • In 2008, Bill and Ben's 0.56% would not have been enough for a seat.
  • In 2005, Destiny NZ's 0.62% would not have been enough for a seat.

Similarly, if you are simply using the Sainte-Laguë formula, with no threshold (which is how Bill and Ben and Destiny would have been in), then:

  • In 2011, the Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party's 0.52% would have been enough for a seat.
by alexb on August 13, 2012

Does it matter if parties like Bill and Ben or Destiny would get in with a low threshold? You may find the prospect distasteful, but frankly it smacks of being a bit precious about a pretty twisted institution. Plenty of people already think of Parliament as a farce, why not have them represented by Bill and Ben? Plenty of people think ACT are scum, same with Destiny, but if their constituents elect them, who are we to say they should not have representation?

The argument against lowering the threshold seems to suggest that Parliament is a sacred space where issues are debated respectfully and intellectually, and single issue or fringe parties will compromise that. Parliament is no such thing. It is the tool of interest groups who can organise enough of their fellow MPs so they can ram through their policies. If these fringe groups can get 1/120th of the country to vote for them, why shouldn't they have the right to try and play the game too?

by Tom Semmens on August 13, 2012
Tom Semmens

"...Plenty of people already think of Parliament as a farce, why not have them represented by Bill and Ben..?"

If parliament was just charged with being a perfect democratic institution then you would have no threshold, as you suggest. However, whilst people expect democracy to produce a democratic result, there is also an expectation that elections will generate a parliament capable of governing. The tension in the difference between how parliament is selected (must allow as many competing views as possible) and the expectation of how it will perform its governing role (decisive, mandate for change, etc etc) is an uneasy one, and it is one of the attractions of democracy that their is never a definitive answer, that it always unfinished business to be tweaked and tinkered with at regular intervals.

by Peter Tenby on August 13, 2012
Peter Tenby

I must say I find the arguments people make against executing the democratic will of the people rather amusing. I like how we think "big parties" are always good and that somehow letting in one or two "independants" (remember that phrase NZ?) will somehow bring the country two its knees.

On further reflection I downright chortle when I realise that Anderton and Dunne have been filling that role for some time.

Especially when said people are pretending to speak on behalf of democracy...

I guess sometimes the status quo really does blind people??

And will this report really matter? I mean after all it will be the large parties with everything to lose that will ultimately decide this.

by Richard Aston on August 13, 2012
Richard Aston

I will be glad to see the threshold come down but even 4% is still too high , as AlexB points out its not as if parliament is highly functional human institution - they behave terribly . I doubt a few extra minor parties will create any more dysfunction.

Interesting that NZ First opposed reducing the threshold , why do you think that it ?

Would a reduced threshhold threaten their slice of public support ? Could a new party emerge just based on fear of foreigners or offering a voice for the aged?

Finally I'd would have liked something more imaginative like the creation of the old role of Jester. It worked for British monarchs up until Charles I  .  It would be interesting to have someone in parliament able to completely take the piss out of some the most pompous contributions. We need a Billy Connolly in parliament.



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