Monday, August 13, 2012

MMP review: They blew it

The Electoral Commission has released its initial proposal paper on its review of MMP. The short version is that they recommend abolishing the one-seat rule, with a slight reduction in the threshold to compensate. At best, this is likely to work out to be roughly as representative as we are at the moment. But in some cases (e.g. 2002) it gives us a much less representative Parliament than we have at present. Given an opportunity to improve our electoral system and give us a more representative democracy, the Electoral Commission blew it.

The Commission makes a good case on the distorting effects of the one-seat rule. But they fail to give enough weight to its role as a safeguard against our high threshold. Meanwhile, when talking about the threshold itself, they basically have this to say:

In conclusion, therefore, the Commission’s sense is that 5% is too high and that 3% is the lowest end of an acceptable range. We suggest 4% is preferable. It reflects the Royal Commission’s original recommendation. It would compensate for abolition of the one electorate seat threshold. It is in line with comparable democracies such as Norway and Sweden. And it is in line with public opinion and the weight of submissions received by the Commission.
Interestingly, more submitters favoured a lower threshold than favoured 4% (and as many favoured actual or effective abolition as favoured the second most popular category of 1 - 2.5%). Meanwhile, the actual evidence from NZ of the effectiveness of smaller parties, or their effects on government stability, does not seem to have been considered. I guess they decided that Graeme Edgeler's proposal of considering the pros and cons of the whole range was too much work, so instead we have the usual snobby, anti-democratic nostrums about the need to keep small parties out in the cold. Translating the Electoral Commission's view into the real world, they think the Maori Party are ineffective representatives and that Jim Anderton was extremist, and that both should be denied a place in Parliament if they hadn't had the good luck to win electorate seats. You don't have to approve of either of those examples to recognise that this conclusion is a bit dubious.

The good news is that we've got another chance to convince them. The proposals paper is open for submissions until 7 September. You can have your say here.