How well is MMP working?

We have had MMP for 21 years in New Zealand. Our first election under MMP was in 1996. How well is it working?

There have been definite improvements in diversity of representation, and in variety of parties in Parliament. There have been hiccups.

There have been complaints about it from those who don’t want MMP – generally from those who prefer a two party dominated FPP system, and prefer that their preferred party dominates. In effect they want a single party state as long as it’s their party.

No Minister posted: The failure that is MMP

United Future is gone.  In the past we had parties like ROC and the Alliance.  Both now gone.

It is possible the Greens could go.  And the Maori Party might want to buy a Lotto ticket too.

Conceivably we could have only four parties in parliament after his election.  That’s not what MMP envisaged when introduced.

It’s failed for many reasons.  One major reason is the absolute duopoly the two large parties have on virtually everything.  It’s one of the reasons why Winston uses the dog whistle so often.  The media is complicit in it: Everything is all about whether National or Labour will win the election, when the MSM should know by now neither will win, in that sense of the word.

And the two major parties will never give away their privileges, and so archaic rules as embedded in the Broadcasting Act won’t change, meaning funding at election time is heavily biased towards National and Labour.

MMP has been an abject failure and it’s time it went, or the threshold adjusted to, say, 2% or similar.  Having four parties in parliament is just FPP in drag.  We had four parties in parliament after the 1993 FPP election.

Has MMP not been a good enough alternative? Or has it been prevented from being good enough?

I think that MMP is a definite improvement on FPP, but there is also room for more improvement. Unfortunately the incumbent large parties don’t want improvement because the current limitations help them maintain their power, giving them substantial advantages.

It’s not unusual for political parties to vote for what suits them. This is an abuse of democracy, where they don’t support the democratic rights of minorities.

I see two main  problems with how our MP is working, one a deliberate large party hobbling of MMP, and the other a general abuse of incumbent advantages.

No Minister mentions the biggest shortcoming with MMP – the ridiculously high threshold. This is supported by the larger parties because it protects them from challenges from new parties. No new party has been able to beat the 5% threshold.

The Threshold

National and Labour won’t change the threshold simply because it doesn’t suit them.

Even the Greens, who pride themselves on their democratic principles, want an undemocratically high threshold.

From the Green Party submission on the MMP Review

We believe strongly that any changes to MMP resulting from this review should be guided by these principles

  • fairness,
  • proportionality, and
  • diversity.

Changes should strengthen, rather than weaken, the expression of these principles in our electoral system.


Green Party supports lowering the party vote threshold. A lower threshold would mean fewer wasted votes (the number of votes for a party that fails to reach the threshold), and would help to ensure the diversity and proportionality of Parliament.

We note that the Royal Commission and the original legislation to introduce MMP initially suggested a 4 percent threshold, as they viewed 5 percent as being too great an obstacle to the development of new and emerging parties.

But 4% is still undemocratic, and would be a difficult barrier for new parties without having millionaires piling a heap of money into them.

The argument should be over a 1% threshold versus a 2% threshold.

The Greens were comfortable around 10% in not pushing for a democratic threshold. I wonder if they have a different view on the threshold having dabbled in the 4-5% zone in recent polls?

Incumbent Financial Advantage

The other problem with our political system is the huge incumbent party advantage in state funding.

This is not specifically an MMP problem, but alongside the high threshold barrier it makes it a terribly uneven playing field for any new political initiatives.

There are two significant financial advantages of incumbent parties, especially the largest parties.

One is an advantage they effectively award themselves – the allocation of broadcasting money in for an election campaign. The largest parties in power receive millions of dollars for campaign advertising.

A new party has to finance everything themselves. This is an obvious disadvantage, and rules out serious new political ventures that aren’t backed by rich people.

The other advantage incumbent parties have, and not just the largest parties, is the availability of free travel, and the fact that MPs are paid large salaries to represent the people but some of them spend a lot of their time promoting their own election chances.

Andrew Little and Jacinda Ardern have spent much of the year touring the country running campaign meetings and promotions. I doubt that has been all done in their spare time when they aren’t at work, and I doubt all their travel and accommodation have been paid for out of their own pockets.

Winston Peters spends much of his time and effort effectively campaigning. What has he achieved as an elected representative? What has the NZ First Party achieved?

The Greens also do a lot of travelling and self promotion, presumably in part at least financed by the taxpayers.

The Greens have no electorates to attend to so they can choose who they associate with and who they promote themselves too.

NZ First has one electorate, the other MPs have the freedom to do what they like. What do they actually do to help run the country?

New parties have the system and the money stacked against them.

Independent candidates have no show.

A side issue is the media, who support this lack of democratic fairness, and don’t question it. They also virtually ignore most alternative parties and candidates because they ‘don’t have a show’. They will never have a show under the current system.

MMP is an improvement, but it is abuse and misused by incumbent parties – and unfortunately they call the shots. They give themselves shots in their political arms, and effectively shoot down any challenge to their power and their advantages.

Our MMP and our effective democratic system is seriously flawed.

I think MMP is probably less seriously flawed than the alternatives, but it should certainly be made more democratic and more equitable, otherwise we won’t see any significant change.

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  1. Well said, Pete 🙂

  2. David

     /  24th August 2017

    Even when small parties get elected and have all the benefits the voters still chuck themmout and revert back to the two big ones,perhaps because they cater to the vast bulk of the population.

  3. Ray

     /  24th August 2017

    Nailed Pete
    The free money for advertising for the incumbents and the rort of free travel really need to be examined

  4. Blazer

     /  24th August 2017

    only the threshold needs to be tweaked …down.More voices in Parliament ..the better.

  5. They (the small one trick parties) have their chance to impress and gain a following.
    History shows that this approach fails

  6. duperez

     /  24th August 2017

    Various views from 2013 on the MMP review. When Judith Collins makes her valedictory speech, or becomes Prime Minister, maybe the appraisal of her efforts as a body of work will recognise such as this bit.

    DomPost editorial:

  7. Brown

     /  24th August 2017

    Yep, we are virtually back to FPP again. Fringe parties appeal to fringe people and that’s not that many. I think MMP gives fringe people a bigger say in things than they warrant – tails wagging dogs and so on. The answer, in my view, is a small govt limited by a written constitution that keeps govts out of our lives and bedrooms.

    • Blazer

       /  24th August 2017

      alot of ‘fringe’ ideas/values become mainstream.Marijuana use a case in point.

  8. Channel the crazies and the missing voters by giving their parties a chance, the cap should be 1% for a party seat. So we could have 100 seats @1% each, 30 electorates, 15 Maori seats, (capped permanently) and, (heres my weird solution) – 5 Independant Technocrats appointed by the GG would help to dull the bipartisan politics and actually promote solutions that actually work….. (think some of Gareth Morgans policy nous run by someone other than Gareth)

    That would be 150 politicians, but a broader range of views represented which should help voter turn out. A permanent Maori Block, a permanent 5 independents of high standing to keep everyone honest about the realities we face and the hard choices that need to be made that neither of the big parties have the stomach for. A larger pool of politicians increases our talent pool somewhat, in the hope that there is more “talent” that rises to the top in parliament. We don’t see enough of it, and some parties have some pretty useless hangers on, like the bottom 20 National MPs, the bottom half of NZ First, etc, etc.

    • PDB

       /  24th August 2017

      150 politicians is ridiculous. We should be 100 total tops.

      • its a bit large, but compared to other countries who have 2 levels of parliament our system works fast, but larger parties can abuse the processes to avoid debate.

        There are 700+ folk in the house of lords and 650 I think in the house of Commons in the UK, granted, that is for a country of 65 million vs our 4.8, But a larger amount of minority parties with alternate views, and some nominated technocratic independents to keep everyone honest, (similar to our commisioner appointments, but managed externally from the parties by the Crown/GG) would greatly aid in actually talking about looming fiscal failures.

        Also someone else has suggested a non partisan resource for parliament to review policies and costings for ALL parties, as National attacks the lefts fiscal irresponsibility despite the greens in particular having pretty good costings. (and aggressive taxes)

        • PDB

           /  24th August 2017

          You actually make a good point about the current lack of talent in parliament but then use that to suggest more politicians? Part of the problem is that politics in this country doesn’t tend to attract our best people, increasing the number of politicians will only make this situation worse with even more deadwood in parliament.

          Apart from the fact the threshold should be taken down to 4% I suggest the main problem with MMP thus far is it hasn’t seen many new mainstream parties willing to take on the Nationals, Labours and NZL Firsts of this world. The smaller parties currently wanting to break into parliament tend to be those on the outer fringes of the political spectrum or ‘single-issue’ parties.

          • We need more high end politicians, adding more to the mix increases our chances, (counter intuitive though it is.) otherwise what other options exist? Basic iq tests would knock out a few list MPs I suspect.

  9. High Flying Duck

     /  24th August 2017

    No mention here of the very worst aspects of MMP such as the “tail wagging the dog” scenario where a very minor party becomes crucial to setting up a government.

    It is all very well having lesser voices in parliament and differing views represented, but the byproduct of the MMP system is that these minority viewpoints can gain power far in excess of their following in the name of expediency.

    MMP is a good theory but a terrible method of selecting a government.

    The list system it requires removes the people’s right to choose who represents them by voting in actual representatives.

    This allows (for example) NZ First to bring in a cast of incompetent fools on the back of Winston’s popularity.

    Voters didn’t want a bar of Margaret Wilson in the last Labour government but she was returned on the list twice despite terrible results in her electorate seat.

    FPP was flawed, but it allowed a government to govern relatively unencumbered for the duration of their term.

    Management by committee as required by MMP prevents bold decision making and can seriously inhibit major policy platforms (such as RMA reform).

    For a proportional representation system an STV system is preferable so the voters get a larger say over ‘who’ gets in the parliament rather than just the party.

  10. Zedd

     /  24th August 2017

    I think the main issue is; the mainstream media & other commentators still talk in terms of FPP (left v right). MMP is about getting greater representation from across the political spectrum, but it seems many just dont get it ?!

    I often hear that ‘the party vote, is the important one’ BUT over the last 2 elections, its been about doing deals (UF & act) to win electorate seats; ‘dirty politics’ that has kept this mob in power, so long…..

    i think MMP needs to be rejigged; reduce the thresh-hold to 1%, so ‘minor parties’ have a better chance to get in & less chance of votes being lost, when parties fail to get to 5%
    ‘the more the merrier’ sez I&I 😀

    Do we really want, ‘American style’ popularity contests, to rule in NZ or serious politics ?

  11. Zedd

     /  24th August 2017

    btw; If it was 1%, then maybe the asylum, would be run by the ‘loonies’ : YAHOO ! 😀 😀

  12. robertguyton

     /  24th August 2017

    “The Greens could go…”
    Wishful thinking. The Greens will sail in, waving to the crowds. National, otoh, has sunk below the waves and taken her barnacles with her.

    • PDB

       /  24th August 2017

      Sailing in, waving to the crowds until they hit the iceberg Winston and sink again into political irrelevance for another three years……..

  13. duperez

     /  24th August 2017

    I thought I’d posted on this but apparently not.

    It doesn’t matter how MMP is working. What matters is how the party in power thinks it is working and how it wants it to work.

    We had a referendum on MMP. The Electoral Commission carried out a review. The Commission’s independent, non-partisan review of MMP had multiple rounds of public consultations and expert testimony. Its recommendations were vetoed by Judith Collins.

    In 2015 Iain Lees-Galloway had a private member’s bill. It would have dropped the 5% MMP threshold to 4% and got rid of the coat-tailing rule. National rubbished it.

    We are wasting time talking about thresholds unless we are talking to such as Judith Collins.
    Maybe it’s Amy Adams who wields the power now.

    The media supporting a lack of democratic fairness? Who were the architects of the lack of democratic fairness in 2013 and 2015? Who let them get away with?

  14. Richard

     /  24th August 2017

    It seems strange how everyone says that MMP is a failure. This means that the parliament as a whole is a failure, due to the fact that the parliament of the day chose to completely ignore the fact that the people did want a different system of government and the majority of the people chose Single Transferable Vote.

    It is typical of both the media and the government to completely ignore the wishes of the people and do their own thing, and then blame the people for selecting that option.

    • PDB

       /  24th August 2017

      If National is in govt MMP is labelled a failure by lefties, when Labour is in govt and people like Peter Dunne are instead propping up their numbers it’s all good.

  1. How well is MMP working? — Your NZ – NZ Conservative Coalition

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