Monday, October 20, 2008

MMP and the Maori seats

Over on Tumeke, Tim Selwyn responds to my post about MMP and overhangs. He's interested in finding "an electoral system like MMP with no overhangs, that guarantees Maori representation". Unfortunately, he then focuses on the latter while pretty much ignoring the former, and the resulting "solution" - SMP plus a return to an unelected upper house - is actively worse than the present system. Electorates would be much larger, meaning poorer electorate representation. There would be no proportionality, meaning the system would be unfair and the results would not reflect the will of the people. And his upper house would simply lack legitimacy. MMP has flaws, but this is not any sort of answer to them. Fortunately, as Lewis Holden points out, our culture of constitutional incrementalism likely rules out such radical change.

As for what might be an answer, I've suggested one alternative: a list only system. I've suggested it because the tension between electorate representation and proportionality cannot be resolved; the mere existence of electorates, no matter how many or how few, creates the potential for an overhang. If we think overhangs are intolerable, and we want the fairness of proportionality, then it is the best solution. However, that still leaves wide scope for some geographic representation. Many European systems (e.g. Spain; the UK's EU elections) split their lists along regional lines, assessing the party vote first within each province. This has obvious potential for disproportionality, so the fairer systems also have a national topup to ensure overall proportionality (e.g. Sweden). That seems to be a fairly good solution, though its also worth noting that many other European systems get by perfectly well with only a national list (and others use MMP and accept overhangs as the price they pay).

How could Maori representation be guaranteed within such a system? Very simply: by treating the Maori roll as a region, and having a Maori list. Instead of the Maori roll determining the number of Maori electorates, it would instead determine the number of Maori list seats - about 12 using the current electoral populations. Who won those seats would be determined from the votes of those on the Maori roll by the usual method, though without a threshold; MPs would be elected from separate Maori lists (though dual candidacy would be possible). The overall proportionality of Parliament would be determined by the total vote, Pakeha and Maori, just as it is at present. So, guaranteed Maori representation, plus proportionality, in one neat package.

The real beauty of this proposal is that it can be incorporated into the present MMP system; just swap the Maori seats for a Maori list. On the 2005 election results, this would have seen Labour win 7, the Maori Party 3, and National and NZ First one seat each from the Maori list. These seats would have come out of their total quota, and so not led to disproportionality. Unfortunately, I can't see anyone supporting it. Those advocating the abolition of the Maori seats tend to be rednecks opposed to Maori representation, who would hardly welcome an increase in such representation, while the Maori Party would likely see it as decreasing their power, despite the fact that it increases overall representation for Maori. But I would dearly love to be proved wrong on this.