Saturday, March 12, 2005

Improving MMP

New Zealand Political Comments considers ways to improve MMP. His suggestions include changing the formula used to assign seats so that a majority of votes guarantees a majority of seats (something not guaranteed under Sainte-Laguë), removing the electorate seat exemption to the threshold, and using preferential voting for the party vote. But there's a far easier way of ensuring that everybody's vote counts: removing the threshold entirely (or rather, lowering it to 0.8%, the amount required to get one seat). This would remove the greatest distortion to proportionality - the fact that around 5% of votes are simply ignored. More importantly, it would allow new parties to rise to challenge the existing ones - something the threshold seems designed to impede. And while most of those who would benefit from such a change are parties I despise - Christian Heritage, ACT, maybe even the National Front - I cannot deny that if I am worthy of Parliamentary representation for my views, then so are they.

As for the discussion in the comments regarding the Maori seats, I see them both as an important way of guaranteeing Maori representation and as no more distorting than any other electorate seat (the "Auckland seats" are equally likely to produce an overhang, for example, but nobody is contemplating getting rid of them). And the fact that Maori have voted with their feet to be represented in this manner, despite the electoral disadvantages of doing so, strongly suggests that the seats should be retained.


We have debated this before but by eleiminating the 5% threshold you not only encourage the most extreme elements of politics, you almost inevitably give them power well beyond their population support (as they can make or break a Govt often), and it will turn NZ into a far worse society.

I also think that defining people's electoral entitlements based on ethnic bloodlines is only going to lead to a more divisive NZ.

Posted by David Farrar : 3/13/2005 08:26:00 AM

I think worries about disproportionate power are grossly overstated, because they ignore the presence of other parties. As the current makeup of parliament shows, United Future does not enjoy a disproportionate influence on government policy (quite the contrary, in fact), because the government has other options. If UF throws its weight around, they can go to the Greens, or to NZFirst - and they frequently do in order to pass legislation. The small parties act as a check on each other's demands, and I expect this to continue.

As for extremism, I believe in the marketplace of ideas. If the ideas of mainstream parties cannot win out over those of loons like the National Front, then frankly we deserve to lose. But fear of losing is not a good excuse to prevent them from gaining Parliamentary representation, any more than it is a good reason to ban their speeches and burn their books.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 3/13/2005 09:18:00 AM

> If the ideas of mainstream parties cannot win out over those of loons like the National Front, then frankly we deserve to lose.

They may "deserve to loose" but its not just them who will suffer from their inadequacy - it will be everyone.

that is why we esign idiot proof roads and we also need an idiot proof election system.

Posted by Genius : 3/13/2005 04:21:00 PM

To throw away the threshold would be to fly in the face of historical evidence that it is needed to keep looneys out of parliament. The 5% threshold is I believe a variation of what the Germans do, something they adopted as a direct result of the experience of the Weimar republic which did not have such a threshold.

Countries which have both PR and no threshold often (usually?) fall into chaos and polarisation as extreme tails wag the political dog - Israel comes to mind as the perfect example.

I fail to see why we should ignore historical lessons just because we think we are somehow different - we are not.

The lesson of history is that more perfect representation does NOT equal a more perfect democracy.

Posted by Anonymous : 3/14/2005 11:35:00 AM

Genius: the purpose of representative democracy is not to provide good government. It is to provide government that is both representative of, and answerable to, the people. And if we are "idiots" who choose morons to represent us, well, hopefully we will learn from our mistake.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 3/14/2005 12:08:00 PM

Anon: You are simply misinformed about the historical evidence. Go look at the Nazi Party's election results and then try telling me with a straight face that a 5% threshold would have kept out of power a party that repeatedly got more than 30% of the vote.

As for "extreme tails wagging the dog", see my comments above on multiple actors acting as a check on one another's demands. There may be a problem if there is a high degree of political balkanisation (and Israel is quite unusual in this regard), and if there is also a high degree of extremism in the electorate. But this is not a problem which seems at all likely given what we know about New Zealand political sociology.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 3/14/2005 12:55:00 PM

There is also the question of the guaranteed number of seats for the South Island. Since its population is decreasing, this creates a disproportionate over-representation in parliament of Mainlanders. When will we decide they have become rotten boroughs?

Posted by Hans Versluys : 3/15/2005 01:54:00 PM

The population of the South Island is no longer falling in absolute or relative terms, although over the last decade its proportion of the total national population has fallen:

"The population of the South Island grew by 12,400 people or 1.3 percent, to reach 973,100 in 2004. The North Island population grew at the same rate of 1.3 percent during this period. At 30 June 2004, the North Island was home to 3,087,500 people, an increase of 39,900 from 30 June 2003. At 30 June 2004, 76.0 percent of all New Zealand residents lived in the North Island, up from 75.3 percent at 30 June 1996."

StatsNZ, Demographic Trends 2004

This said, I can think of no principled reason for guaranteeing the SI a certain number of electorates (16 if I recall) irrespective of population. Smacks a bit too much of the former bias in favour of rural NZ (and that against those on the Maori roll) - and there is the potential for rotten boroughs, although it will probably never be realized.

Posted by dc_red : 3/15/2005 07:14:00 PM