Thursday, May 07, 2009

Chen on MMP

Constitutional lawyer Mai Chen has a piece in the Independent Financial Review today (offline, as usual), asking whether change to our MMP system is really likely. She argues that many of the public's concerns about MMP have been defused by National's 2008 election victory, which has demonstrated that voters can change governments, rather than just Parliaments, and that it does not necessarily deliver "weak" (which others might describe as "consultative) government. However, she points out that other problems have been highlighted:

Because New Zealand First failed to pass the 5 per cent threshold, it has no seats in Parliament, despite winning a higher percentage of the party vote than ACT New Zealand (4.07 per cent), the Progressives and United Future (both less than 1 per cent), all of which won electorate seats. If this is seen as a problem, it could be remedied by either:
  • Reducing the threshold to, say, 3 per cent or removing it altogether, which would be likely to result in a greater proliferation of smaller parties; or,
  • Requiring all parties to meet the 5 per cent threshold before they can have any list seats beyond their constituency seats. In the 2008 election, this would have meant ACT would have had only one MP and the only minor party to obtain any list seats would have been the Greens, who won 6.72 per cent of the party vote.
This is a basic problem with the proportionality and fairness of the electoral system. And you do not solve it by making the system less proportional and less fair. Requiring all parties to meet the 5% threshold to be eligible for list seats - eliminating the "electorate lifeboat", as some put it - would actively disenfranchise supporters of smaller parties, producing a less proportional Parliament. And while it would free us of the likes of David Garrett and Roger Douglas, their supporters deserve to be represented as much as those of National or Labour. The only just solution to this problem is to lower the threshold - or repeal it.

Update: A reader has pointed out that there is a longer version of the article here.