Strong case for 3% MMP threshold

The MMP Review has suggested a range of 3%-5% for the party threshold, with a recommendation of 4%. But their reasoning is flawed and contradictory.

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.

There is a much stronger case for a 3% threshold. Even less would allow better democratic representation but it’s hard to see the large parties going lower.

The MMP Review says:

…a 4% threshold would remain a significant barrier to new parties entering Parliament

Yes, and that is anti-democratic.

and thus avoid the proliferation of very small parties in Parliament.

Why? Do those who vote for small parties not count?

For example, nine of the 13 parties that contested the 2011 election won less than 4% of the party vote.

And none of those nine parties got 3%. The Conservative Party was the best of the rest and only managed 2.65%. The other small parties were all less than 2%.

It won’t compensate

It reflects the Royal Commission’s original recommendation. It would compensate for abolition of the one electorate seat threshold.

The original recommendation was 4% plus the one electorate seat threshold. The review is recommending 4% with no one electorate seat threshold, so it won’t compensate, it makes it much harder for small parties.

Small party stability

An argument against lowering the threshold is to prevent government instability. But there is no history of small parties causing instability.

Many submissions favouring a low or no threshold argued the risk of extremist parties or large numbers of small parties being elected to Parliament in New Zealand is overstated.

  • They pointed to the experience of the six Parliaments elected to date under MMP which have included numbers of small parties and stable governments.
  • They pointed to countries with low thresholds that have effective and stable government.
  • They argued that because of our political history, culture and social tolerance, New Zealand is far more likely to follow their examples than the often quoted examples of unstable democracies.
  • Thresholds, they argue, distort voters’ choices by causing them to vote for parties that are not their first choice because the party they do support has little chance of reaching the threshold.
  • They argued the principle of proportionality should be given primacy and Parliament should represent all interests in society, however minor.

They are all strong arguments. But the Review goes on to say…

It should limit the proliferation of small parties in Parliament thus reducing the risk of fragmentation. A fragmented Parliament can lead to difficulties in forming and maintaining effective governments.

There is no evidence to support this. We have a record of forming and maintaining effective governments with small parties. The current Government is stable and includes three very small parties (2 with 1 seat, 1 with 3 seats).

Single party government resisted

The larger parties – National, Labour and Greens – want to try and minimise small parties so they can maximise their own power. This is not what the public chose with MMP, and it’s not what voters choose. While National and Labour would like to be able to form a single party government the electorate has never delivered.

More small parties better for large parties

More small parties are actually better for the large parties, and they contribute substantially to stable government.

If National or Labour only have one small party option to form a government that small party is in a disproportionately strong position. If they have multiple small party choices it spreads the power more evenly.

And more small parties in parliament give more options for getting a majority for conscience votes and Memeber’s Bills. This assists getting more democratic parliamentary outcomes.

3% is still a high barrier

A threshold of 3%, especially if the one seat threshold is abolished – is still a very difficult hurdle for small parties. The two new small parties at the last election failed to reach 3% – the Conservatives got 2.65%, Mana got 1.08%.

The MMP review based their recommendation on poor unsupported assumptions, and ignored history, common sense and democratic principles.

3% a practical compromise

I personally think the threshold should be lower or eliminated altogether. The MMP Review claimed…

In our view, anything below a party vote threshold of 3% would amount to a departure from the balanced approach that currently underpins the MMP system and would in effect constitute a new voting system.

I disagree. We already have small parties in parliament and in government.

Removing the one seat threashold ‘would in effect constitute a new voting system’ more than lowering the threshold, which effectively will significantly reduce the number of small parties.

There is likely to be too much party and public resistance to going lower than 3%, but there are no good arguments to make the party threshold more than 3%.

Other sources:

7 Comments

  1. 1. QUOTE: They are all strong arguments. But the Review goes on to say…

    “It should limit the proliferation of small parties in Parliament thus reducing the risk of fragmentation. A fragmented Parliament can lead to difficulties in forming and maintaining effective governments.”

    There is no evidence to support this. We have a record of forming and maintaining effective governments with small parties. The current Government is stable and includes three very small parties (2 with 1 seat, 1 with 3 seats). UNQUOTE

    I am constantly reminded of the 1990s Waka-jumping episodes.

    2. The 3% threshold: I have a clouded brain over this aspect – can you have a lower threshold for electorate seats AND party threshold – or can you only have one not the other?

    • Barry McDonald

       /  August 15, 2012

      Most people who have “waka-jumped” have actually left biggish parties, Labour, National, NZ first at the time. This aspect of fragmentation is not one that was covered in the review.
      However my personal opinion is that we have such a thin layer of government (what some people used to describe as a 3-year elected dictatorship) that we need the opportunity for whistleblowers to leave a party for reasons of conscience and not immediately lose their job. They will be judegeby the voters later., but meanwhile we the voters get a chance to understand what the problem is – and hey if a party is dysfunctional I want to know before I vote for it.

  2. Barry McDonald

     /  August 15, 2012

    A very good summary. A further point is that the 4% still puts voters for small parties at a high anxiety about of wasting their vote and so represents a gerrymander of the vote. 3% is much more likely to let the voter actually vote for what they believe is best, and so enhances the reputation of parliament in a way the 4% or 5% gerrymander does not.

    In my submission to the review I suggested that one could decide the threshhold by arguing that 3 MPs was the minimum caucus for a party to cover most aspects of parliamentary life – fewer would hinder the effective running of parliament – and this makes an argument for a 2.5- 3% threshhold.

    • Thanks Barry for your comments. I particularly like the idea of a 3 MP minimum. Though in reality it might be hard to achieve for small parties – but like you said – give the voter more punch than wasting their vote.

  3. Steve W

     /  August 16, 2012

    The smaller parties may have struggled to get 3% because the threshold is 5%. It may be that more voters will be willing to take a chance on a smaller party if the threshold is lower….like 3%. I have to admit I avoid any party that isn’t polling close to 5%. My local vote is always worthless, so I very much want to make my party vote to count toward representation.

    • That’s a good point, if they look withing reach of the threshold people may be more willing to vote for them. I think that still makes 3% a good threshold. Few parties have looked like getting close to 4%, but 3% doesn’t seem that much above the 1-2% a few parties manage.

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