Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Dropping out

The Alliance has decided not to contest the party list next election, for fear of robbing votes from the Greens and the Maori Party and driving them beneath the threshhold:

"Given the Alliance does not have parliamentary representation, the Alliance supports Labour coalition partners to be the Green Party and the Maori Party as opposed to the NZ First and/or United Future," the council resolved.

It's a smart choice for people who want a nominally left-wing government, but at the same time it illustrates the greatest flaw in MMP: the threshhold. This entirely arbitrary, all-or-nothing barrier distorts voter preferences, distorts party behaviour, and makes elections turn on which smaller party doesn't make it (which then encourages large parties to actively try and eliminate smaller ones and ensure that their supporters go unrepresented). It works directly counter to the purpose of a system predicated on greater democracy and enhanced representation.

If we want every vote to count and as many people as possible to be represented in parliament, we must eliminate the threshhold. In practice this means reducing it to 0.83% - the amount required to gain a single MP. This would allow people to vote honestly rather than tactically, and remove the incentive to cut deals over electorate seats (something voters don't seem to like at all, despite it making perfect tactical sense).

As for how it would look, if the 2002 election had been conducted on this basis, there would have been three additional parties in Parliament: the Alliance and Outdoor Recreation with one seat each, and Christian Heritage with two. The 1999 election would have given us a one-seat ALCP and Future NZ, and a three-seat Christian Heritage. Of course, both these elections were distorted by the presence of the threshhold - voters tended to see support for a minor party as a wasted vote if it had no chance of making 5%, and a large number of parties have in consequence ceased to contest the list. But the overall effect is likely to be a handful of smaller groups with one or two MPs each.

No matter how much we may dislike them, the fundamentalist Christians, Libertarians, and ACT are as deserving of representation as you or I, and a system which systematically prevents them from gaining it is fundamentally unjust.