Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Splitting the Christian vote

Destiny New Zealand has announced that it will contest the next election, setting up a direct struggle for the Christian vote between them, Future New Zealand, and Taito Phillip Field's new vehicle. From a tactical point of view, this is good news, as it will suck votes off National and reduce their chances of being able to form a government. But from a democratic point of view, it again points out the unfairness of the undemocratic 5% threshold. Both of these parties are likely to gain a similar level of votes to parties currently or historically represented in Parliament (the Progressives, Peter Dunne's original United Party, possibly the Maori Party or even United Future if Future NZ campaigns well) - and yet they will be excluded and their voters effectively disenfranchised in order to protect the power of larger groups.

This is unfair and undemocratic. The basis of democracy is the idea that everyone has an equal say in government, that everyone has an equal right to be represented, that everyone's vote counts equally. The 5% threshold means that that is not true. It's time we got rid of it.


Actually to me all it represents is the selfish nature of some of these more evangelical Christian movements. If they cannot work out the really simple rules of MMP, tough luck.

Seems the cult of personality is stronger than the desire to have a representation for their "values".

Posted by Anonymous : 5/23/2007 11:07:00 AM

Field's party - if one will actually exist is likely to take votes off Labour, more than it is National. They're social conservatives and economic social democrats - like Field himself - and Labour is only representing half their views at present.

Posted by Graeme Edgeler : 5/23/2007 11:43:00 AM

What has been the rationale for the 5% threshold?

Was it something that the original electoral reform lobbiers wanted, or something that got put in later?

Posted by Anonymous : 5/23/2007 11:50:00 AM

"They're social conservatives and economic social democrats - like Field himself."

I'm looking forward to Field going to trial. Rather than an 'economic social democrat' I suspect he'll be proved to be a Suharto-style kleptocrat.

Posted by Anonymous : 5/23/2007 12:48:00 PM

Weka: The Royal Commission on the Electoral System recommended a 4% threshold "in order to prevent a proliferation of minor parties in Parliament" - an explicitly anti-democratic goal. This was later raised by the select committee to 5% primarily to preserve the two main parties' duopoly on power.

I don't regard either goal as worth sacrificing representation for. Neither am I particularly concerned about "instability" (another bugbear raised by the anti-democrats over smaller parties) or government having to negotiate with other groups to gain support for its agenda - in fact, I welcome the latter. As for the argument originally used for the threshold when it was implemented in Germany - keeping the Nazis out - I'd point out that a) the Nazis consistently won more than 30% of the vote; b) that we don't have any anyway; and c) that at the end of the day, democracy means that other people are entitled to representation no matter how revolting I find their opinions. If we're in a situation where significant numbers of people are voting for a radical racist party which promotes political violence to achieve its aims, then we have far bigger problems than the voting system.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 5/23/2007 12:49:00 PM

everyone's vote counts equally

You are assuming that influence in parliament is directly proportional to the number of MPs.

It isn't. A one man party (as these 'christian' parties would be without a threshold) has disproportionate influence. It stands a chance of holding the balance of power and being offered concessions, baubles and policy asks in return for giving their support to a governing coalition.

Would Jim Anderton be an Minister if he was a Labour backbencher?
Would the Families Commission have come into being if it was the idea of a couple of obscure National MPs?

The threshold is a perfectly reasonable way of compensating for this by requiring that a party enjoys the support of a substantial chunk of society before it gets a chance to help form governments.

If it wasn't there, the supporters of Destiny and the other parties would get more for their votes than those voting for more popular parties.

Posted by Rich : 5/23/2007 12:59:00 PM

I/S, are you arguing against the notion of any barrier at all to parliamentary participation, or are arguing that the barrier should be diminished?

If a Silly Party or the National Front got a few hundred votes, should they be allowed to participate in Parliament? Wouldn't we have to re-apportion seats to reflect the relative voting power?

Posted by Anonymous : 5/23/2007 01:01:00 PM

Eddie; I'm arguing for it to be made as low as possible given the practicalities of representative democracy. If we have a 120 seat parliament, then the "threshold" should be whatever it takes to get one seat, nothing more, nothing less.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 5/23/2007 01:31:00 PM

The key thing you seem to miss in all this I/S is reality, and a confusion of better representation with better government. Democracy is not an end unto itself, it's merely the best form of governance that we have at this point in time. Time and again through history, people (and the middle class in particular) have shown they prefer order to law and law and order to democracy. Introducing crazies and single-issue fanatics to the parliament may make for more perfect representation in that parliament, but I would doubt it would make for better government or - more crucially - better democratic outcomes for all citizens. The only long term result of a parliament with 8 or so parties having 12-18 seats between them would be either deadlock or chaos or bad law or all three; And over time the subsequent weakening of the credibility of the democratic process would be very serious indeed. Governments need not just be accurate representations of the peoples will - they need to be able to govern as well.

Its all well and good to point to the Weimar republic, where democracy was fatally injured by its association with the Versailles settlement anyway, but what about the chaotic governance of Israel, or Italy, or any number of countries with straight PR? Do the Jewish extremist parties not hold the government of Israel to ransom?

Posted by Sanctuary : 5/23/2007 02:15:00 PM

I actually think that in an ideal world we would have a different system to MMP.

I favour having ten or so multi-member electorates (one Maori and the rest regional). These would elect members by regional list, with the results being adjusted by the *national* vote to achieve proportionality. To get representation, a party would need to elect a member in at least one region *before* adjustment.

This would provide a local MP - in fact a choice of them. It would be fully proportional and avoid overhangs. It wouldn't create two classes of MPs. And it would allow new parties to build a regional base around their MPs - rather than being a Green List MP, Nandor could be the Green MP for Auckland Northeast.

However, I think we should wait a while yet before messing with the electoral system. The worst thing would be to go back to FPP and have a UK-style "choice" between two right-wing parties.

Posted by Rich : 5/23/2007 02:18:00 PM

Rich: you're right about parties having disproportionate power - Brian Easton's column on coalitions and the Banzhaf Index demonstrates that mathematically. But at the same time, you're promoting a counterproductive "solution". By limiting the number of parties, the threshold limits coalition options, and hence increases the power of those in the middle. Getting rid of it will increase the number of parties and coalition options, and correspondingly dilute their power.

The best example of this is the 2002 Parliamentary term, in which the government could gain a majority with the votes of any one of the Greens, NZ First or United Future. As a result, if one asked for too much, the government could always try and get a better deal from someone else (as it did when UF demanded changes to the Prisoners' and Victims' Claims Act). They're able to do this in this parliament too, but with much less flexibility (and OTOH, most bills have passed with 70 votes - i.e. with everyone bar National and ACT, so its not really an issue). Whereas in the first MMP term, NZ First was really the only coalition game in town, and so could demand the earth.

So, I'm not afraid of Destiny using its crucial vote to extort a return to theocracy because in such an environment, the government can always go to someone else. I also have some faith in the NZ electorate to punish parties who give away too much, and in parties to know this.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 5/23/2007 02:19:00 PM

Sanctuary: The key thing you seem to miss in all this I/S is reality, and a confusion of better representation with better government.

Nope. I'm just not interested in "better" government. Government is not supposed to be "efficient"; it is not there to make "good" decisions. It is there to make our decisions, whether they're good, bad, or otherwise (and if we don't learn from our mistakes, we have no-one to blame but ourselves). Democracy is therefore vital, and if those decisions are to be legitimate, it must cast its net as wide as possible.

As for your scaremongering, its worth pointing out that The Netherlands uses pure PR without any of the effects you describe (or at least, no more than anywhere else). Yes, their governments collapse due to coalition differences every so often - though less often than you might suppose - and they just put together a new one (usually with mostly the same people) and move on. Which just goes to show that its not a function of the electoral system so much as political culture - which ultimately comes down to what we, the voters, are willing to put up with.

Since the switch to MMP, we've moved a long way towards a more cooperative Parliament. Even Winston seems to have learned his lesson: that the voters will not tolerate "winner take all" behaviour, and that while he can fight his corner and make demands, being too grasping about it is unacceptable. The politicians and parties know that they have to cobble together something out of an election, and make it work in at least some sense, no matter what their differences. And they know that having done so, they can't jerk the chain in the middle of the term, or they'll be facing political oblivion. Despite the foam on the surface (and that's all Copeland and Field are: the usual ebb and flow of politics), we're a lot closer to the Dutch model than the Italian or Israeli ones.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 5/23/2007 02:40:00 PM

Rich: all the analysis I've seen shows that the really small parties just take power from the other small parties, and usually not even that.

Our 4% threshold.

In 1996 it kept out Cannabis (Michael Appleby, Michael Finlayson) and Christian (Graeme Lee, Graham Capill, Annetta Moran, Ewen McQueen, John Jamieson).

In 1999 it kept out Cannabis (Michael Appleby), Future (Anthony Walton), and Christian (Graham Capill, Philip Sherry, Ewen McQueen).

In 2002 it was Alliance (Laila Harré, Willie Jackson), Cannabis (Michael Appleby), Outdoor Rec (Lester Phelps, David O'Neill), and Christian (Graham Capill, Merepeka Raukawa-Tait).

It looks to me like we should have always had four or five Christian MPs in parliament fair and square, and two or three representing fairly focused issues that either find major-party support or don't. Plus, the Alliance should still be there, even without their safe seat.

So it's hardly keeping out the Nazis, and none of them would have been in a position to change anything but close conciounce votes and otherwise make a lot of hot air.

Posted by tussock : 5/23/2007 04:56:00 PM

A small party can only hold the balance of power if the other parties let it. There's nothing to stop Labour and National going in to coalition together if they don't like what the smaller parties are demanding. Expecting the smaller parties to chose between Labour or National is a legacy of FPP that we really should get over.

Posted by Commie Mutant Traitor : 5/23/2007 05:34:00 PM

As long as it keeps the Nat out I don't care how many religious fundamentalist bigots run for Parliament.

Posted by Anonymous : 5/23/2007 05:58:00 PM

I would really like to have a system like the Netherlands'. It gives much fairer results (rough precis: 150 seats, quota is 1/150 of total vote, anybody who gets over 1/4 of a quota is deemed elected, parties run lists and get seats according to the total number of votes for all their candidates). The provincial split they have might be harder to work, but it isn't really necessary. The end result is much more representative than anything with a threshold.

Posted by Anonymous : 5/23/2007 06:13:00 PM

Let's not confuse parliament with government - under MMP we still elect the legislature not the executive. Removing the threshold (and proportional representation altogether) makes our democracy more democratic. Sure there might be some nut-jobs who get elected to parliament based on a mere 35,000 party votes, but:
a) shouldn't they count as much as 35,000 party votes for National,
b) is it really a good idea to silence the views of certain groups, even if they are faith based (for example, Jewish people in pre-war Germany),
and c) haven't we had nut-jobs in parliament before (Alamein Kopu, Peter Dunne...)

Posted by James : 5/23/2007 09:15:00 PM

s, add a few to that list: Ruth Richardson, John Banks, Michael Laws, :)

BTW, it looks like the chances of Field getting anything off the ground politically are very slim:

"Police seek to charge Taito Phillip Field with bribery"

Posted by Anonymous : 5/24/2007 11:23:00 AM

As I have stated, even if the threshold was only 0.8 per cent
(equivalent to one electorate seat) it would hardly hae made any difference in 2005.

That would have gained just extra political party: Destiny- even had the Christian type parties cobbled together a coalition.

Posted by Swimming : 5/24/2007 12:55:00 PM

That's partly because the electorate is threshold-aware resulting in a drop in the vote for parties that look like crashing out. I think ACT, Green, Alliance and the god-botherers suffered from this.

Maybe not NZF and UF - they had electorates pre-05 and I don't credit their supporters with the intelligence to work out the MMP system.

Posted by Rich : 5/25/2007 10:52:00 AM

"Maybe not NZF and UF - they had electorates pre-05 and I don't credit their supporters with the intelligence to work out the MMP system."

Supporters maybe not, but UF is/was setting itself up as a party in perpetual government...

Posted by Graeme Edgeler : 5/25/2007 11:13:00 AM

Until Dunne retires, or gets defeated. Then they'll be gone. I think the Nats might take Ohariu-Belmont next time - if I lived there I'd vote tactically for the Nat candidate.

Posted by Rich : 5/25/2007 01:12:00 PM