Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Reviewing MMP

Yesterday, the government released its plans for the upcoming referendum on MMP. yesterday, I focused on the questions and lack of spending limits. But one point I haven't highlighted is that if we vote to retain MMP, the system will be reviewed to see if there is any way it should be modified.

Good. As the Herald's John Armstrong points out,

the prospect of a "modified" MMP may be enough to sway those who are still ambivalent about the proportional voting system not to dump on it in the referendum which will be held with next year's election.
The problem is that the sorts of changes politicians and the public may want - an end to dual candidacy (or as they call it, "zombie" MPs), the removal of the "electorate lifeboat", or fewer list seats - are the sorts of changes which make the system worse, not better. Dual candidacy is necessary to allow small parties to contest electorates (and gain visibility by doing so); it also reflects the fact that list MPs are national, not parochial, that one electorate shouldn't have a veto on a candidate if they have national support. The electorate lifeboat boosts proportionality and provides some protection against the unfair and undemocratic 5% threshold; removing it would give us a less proportional, less democratic system. Fewer list seats means regular overhangs and a rapid breakdown of proportionality - again, producing a less democratic outcome (but one which favours the big parties).

MMP has problems, but these are not the solutions. Instead, we should be trying to make the system more democratic, by removing the 5% threshold, opening the list, and introducing preferential voting for electorate seats. The latter two would require a supermajority or referendum, and so probably beyond the scope of this review - but we can certainly do the former. And faced with results like 2008, when 137,500 New Zealanders were disenfranchised by an arbitrary threshold designed by the big parties to limit competition, it is long past time we did.