Thursday, September 28, 2017

An opportunity for fixed-term Parliaments

Post-election, we've had days of feverish speculation about coalition alignments and bottom lines, as political journalists desperate to make wordcount interview their keyboards rather than kicking back and taking the opportunity for a holiday. But in all that speculation, one thing that hasn't cropped up yet is how Winston will protect himself from whoever he chooses as a coalition partner. Because an obvious nasty strategy for the big parties is to wait until NZ First's popularity drops, then call an early election, resulting in their being eliminated from Parliament (and in the case of National, likely winning 3 years of single-party government).

There's an easy solution to this, of course: fix the date of elections. This disarms the Prime Minister and makes it clear the public expect the politicians to play the hand we deal them, rather than being able to roll the dice to get another one. Germany does this, with its Basic Law requiring that elections be held between 46 and 48 months of the beginning of the legislative session (and prohibiting early ones unless the government votes itself out of office). And the UK passed the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 in an effort to prevent the Tories screwing over their then coalition partners (but coalition did that quite nicely by itself). Given that both the German and UK provisions have been abused, I think that we'd want stronger ones: a fixed election date (the first Saturday after September 19 every three years has been suggested), and a requirement for a two-thirds majority to call an early election. This would allow Parliament to be dissolved early if in absolute deadlock, while preventing a government voting itself out of office for electoral advantage.

The only question is whether Winston trusts National and Labour, or whether he wants to protect himself (and us) against their potential abuse of power. Personally, I'm hoping for the latter.