A weakness of parties, not of MMP

Karl du Fresne claims that the way coalition negotiations were conducted (with Winston Peters in charge) is a problem with MMP, but I think he has the wrong target. Peters was allowed to run the post election process because National, Labour and the Greens let him.

All political systems have weaknesses. It largely comes down to how much politicians try to exploit them or allow them to be exploited.

Stuff: Winston Peters top of the political pops with willingness to exploit wonky system

For the first time since New Zealand adopted the MMP system in 1993, the party that won the biggest share of the vote didn’t form the government. How we arrived at this outcome was down to one man: Winston Raymond Peters.

Nope. There were four parties and four party leaders responsible for the procedure and the outcome.

The Peters party, aka New Zealand First, won 7 per cent of the vote. It lost three of its electorate seats in Parliament, including Peters’ own.

That’s incorrect. NZ First only had one electorate seat, won by Peters in a by-election in Northland early last term. They lost that plus reduced their list seat allocation.

Despite this less than resounding endorsement by the people of New Zealand, Peters ended up determining the makeup of the new government.

Many insist, bizarrely, that this is an example of MMP working exactly as intended, but I would argue that it points to a gaping void in our constitutional arrangements – one that allows a politician whose party commanded an almost negligible share of the vote to decide who will govern us.

7% is not ‘almost negligible’ in this situation.

The MMP system allowed for a wide variety of ways for negotiations to be conducted and for a Government to be formed.

The National, Labour and Green parties al played a part along with NZ First, as did three party leaders as well as Peters.

Nonetheless, for his willingness to exploit this wonky system to his advantage, and for the sheer audacity of the way he went about it, Peters is a hands-down winner of my award for Politician of the Year in 2017.

It isn’t ‘a wonky system’.

It’s in the nature of politics for leaders and parties to work a political system to their advantage as best they can, it would be ludicrous if they didn’t.

Peters was allowed to run the negotiation process simply because the other parties and leaders allowed him to. That isn’t a fault in the MMP system. It was how all parties and leaders and MPs allowed it to happen.

And, so far at least, the end result has worked ok, with a secure majority in Parliament.

MMP under threat?

There has been some inevitable complaining about MMP after the outcome of the election and the eventual formation of Government – generally by people who didn’t like the result.

Is MMP broken? Or is it working as intended, albeit with the first time we have the highest polling party by a clear margin in Opposition?

Brent Edwards – Insight: MMP – Democracy or Power?

For the first time under MMP the highest polling party is not leading the government. Despite winning 44.4 percent of the party vote, easily ahead of Labour’s 37 percent, National could not win the support of New Zealand First to form a government.

We have a majority three party Government, with a large minority party in Opposition.

There is no convention for the largest party to form the Government. The only requirement is for a party or group of parties to convince the Governor General they can form a viable Government.

“That is actually the essence of democracy. The majority rules. That is the rule and that is what happened here,” Sir Geoffrey Palmer said.

As it should be.

Meanwhile, Peter Dunne thinks the process has shaken people’s confidence in MMP. But polling by UMR Insight, which does political polls for the Labour Party, does not support that.

It polled 750 people after the coalition agreement was announced.

The poll, which has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.6 percent, found 50 percent of respondents were in favour of retaining MMP, while 38 percent wanted to change the electoral system.

Back in October 2011, the last time UMR polled on what people thought of MMP, only 43 percent wanted to retain it while 37 percent wanted change.

So increasing support for MMP. That may or may not continue after this term, depending on how it manages to perform.

Jacinda Ardern said she wanted to run government differently so it reflected more accurately the reality of MMP. That included ensuring ministerial positions better reflected the interests of all parties involved in the government. In New Zealand First’s case it got regional development and the Greens climate change, both areas where those parties had campaigned strongly.

As well, in a change from previous arrangements, New Zealand First ministers sit alongside their Labour colleagues on Parliament’s frontbench. Their backbench MPs sit behind them in seating which, until now, has been the sole preserve of ministers from the largest party in government.

An interesting change. It allows the Prime Minister and Deputy to sit side by side.

The Prime Minister has only ever voted in MMP elections. For her MMP politics appear to be more instinctive than for those politicians who experienced the old first-past-the-post electoral system.

While it is unlikely any rule will be introduced directing how parties should negotiate after elections, the government does appear to be foreshadowing more change at Parliament. If select committees are given more power and if Ms Ardern is serious about consultation then the National Party might have more influence than any opposition has had in the past.

But just how far will Labour, New Zealand First and the Greens go? It is easy to talk about sharing power, much more difficult to do it. This three-party administration, which is working hard to finish off the year’s business, is under pressure to demonstrate it is not only a truly MMP government but an effective one.

The National Party, no matter what concessions are made to it as the Opposition, has little incentive to make the government’s job any easier.

I disagree with that. Opposition parties have a duty to aid the Government of the day, and they do this through Parliament’s committees. They can do this in other ways, by providing a majority vote for legislation that doesn’t have the support of all the parties in Government.

I think that a largely constructive Opposition that worked positively for the good of Government and the country, albeit holding the Government to account when appropriate, would be reward at the next election if they sold themselves as an improvement.



United Future disbanding

There are a number of news reports that the United Future Party has agreed to disband. They were already in terminal decline, and Peter Dunne’s retirement effectively delivered the party’s last rites.

Damian Light made a decent attempt to take over the leadership but with little support and no money it was a hopeless task.

A letter announcing the disbanding is being reported on and linked to despite being clearly headed ‘Press embargo until 10:00am Tuesday 14 November 2017‘.

Can the media be trusted on anything these days?

United Future has been one of the most successful small parties, having been a part of several Labour and National governments but has been in what turned out to be irreversible decline for a decade.

The prohibitively high MMP threshold will make it very difficult for any new small parties to find a way in to Parliament.

Millions of dollars of funding didn’t help the Conservatives, the Internet Party (and Mana), and Garteh Morgan’s TOP, although people were also a problem for al of those parties.

Unless the threshold problem is addressed the only possibility of seeing any new parties in Parliament is if they are led by existing MPs who split of larger parties.

The ‘largest party’ argument

Although The Standard has just lost stalwart author Anthony Robins they have gained another, Matthew Whitehead, who has previously commented there and has had the occasional guest post. While he is openly a Green supporter he will provide some good input at The Standard.

His first post is an intteresting Critiquing A Modest National Party Proposal

I’m going to be focusing on the suggestion, floating around National Party supporters on social media, that the largest party (“plurality winner” is the technical term for being largest without necessarily winning a majority) after an election should have some enshrined constitutional right at the first shot to form the government offered to them by the Governor General.

The obvious first thing to discuss here is that such an arrangement would favour National forming the government except in the most Labour-slanted circumstances, as right-wing votes tend to be much more concentrated towards the largest party when they feel like National is doing well, making them the most significant beneficiaries of the “come back to mother-ship” effect that both of the two largest parties benefited from this election.

Under the current mix of parties it may favour National but that situation may change. Obviously Labour were the biggest party when they were able to form the Government in 1999, 2002 and 2005.

Given that it is almost exclusively National supporters suggesting this change, we should probably fall back on the principle of electoral reform’s purpose not being to outright advantage any particular party, and count this as a strike against the idea.

That’s silly. Of course National supporters will be dwelling on why they lost power and the process that led to Winston peters decision to go with Labour, while Labour, NZ First and Green supporters are more likely to be rejoicing and looking forward to the new term. That’s not a good reason to “count this as a strike against the idea”.

…it’s simply a constraint on freedom of association for minor parties. It goes against democratic principles and constrains political speech to have our head of state direct coalition talks, and it rules out parallel talks which are simply more efficient and leave the country waiting less time.

It’s not necessarily restraining small parties from associating. It could be a simple guide to beginning negotiations.

It would have been useful for the Greens to officially rule out dealing with National up front in the recent process. But perhaps all parties should make it clear before the election what they would consider to properly inform voters.

It might not be a bad idea for parties to agree to some fair norms around coalition talks and Parliamentary reforms, but I think that’s a discussion that needs to be had on a more consensus basis between our four largest parties.

Why just between our four largest parties? That doesn’t sound very democratic. It should involve all parties in Parliament, any parties not in Parliament that wish to have a say, and the public.

If Greens had missed making the threshold I doubt that Whitehead would be suggesting “a more consensus basis between our three largest parties”.

Overall failing on every major point, this idea seems to be a non-starter, and is instead perhaps intended as just another front for National to attack MMP on, after it has tried and failed twice to defeat it at the ballot box- if they succeed in getting the measure through, they slow down and make coalition talks far less popular.

Questioning whether our current way of doing MMP could be improved is an important democratic process. Dissing it as “just another front for National to attack MMP” could be described as just another front to attack an idea Whitehead doesn’t favour.

They need to instead move on and accept that they can’t rely on strong plurality results to govern without eating up the electorate-based parties that support them, and perhaps even consider splitting into multiple parties themselves for more differentiated campaigning, as National has always been an informal coalition of urban right-wing liberals, right-wing conservatives, and a significant rural support base of many ideological flavours, and arguably could earn more of the Party vote under MMP by campaigning separately to each group.

But that might require them modernizing, an idea which is always deeply unpopular with the National Party, who still have no direct democratic impact on important decisions like electing leaders.

“An idea which is always deeply unpopular with the National Party” – that’s a ridiculous claim and hints at Green arrogance. It’s possible for parties to modernise without being just like the Greens. It would be alarming if parties didn’t modernise in their own ways.

A party in power for none years is always going to tend towards sticking to what succeeded, as long as it works.

I’m sure if Steven Joyce remains he will modernise his campaign strategies, but he is unlikely to favour a modern kamikaze attempt to outmanoeuvre their MoU partner party leading into the campaign, like Metiria Turei and the Greens did. They came close to not being one of the largest parties in Parliament.

Whitehead will no doubt be happy with the outcome of the election and how that came about. But the situation could be quite different after the next election, as it has been after each of our eight MMP elections. It could be the Greens that fall apart as a small party in Government.

Considering whether we can do our democracy better should be encouraged, not blown away because what is being suggested wouldn’t have suited your favoured party’s current situation.

We have just seen a situation where three parties stood back, allowing one small party dictate how negotiations would be conducted, and putting themselves in a position where they made the key decision and the key announcement.

Surely there is a better way of doing things, the public tends to not like tails calling the shots while the dogs cower.

We don’t need hard and fast rules, but if we had accepted guidelines (arrived at by consensus of course) for how post-election negotiations and decisions are made I think the public and the media would be happier with the process of forming a government.

“Media attack on New Zealand’s democracy”

A post by Dr. Hans B. Grueber at ZealandiaBlog suggests that there is a Media attack on New Zealand’s democracy

It’s true that the only ones seemingly concerned about parliament being left in limbo since the election and politicians not fronting up or answering any questions of note are journalists.

Twenty five years ago New Zealand voted in a first referendum for the (more) democratic proportional voting system called MMP (Mixed Member Proportional) as recommended  by the Royal Commission after the most thorough investigation into all electoral systems around the world.

The media are extremely slow learners. Over all these years they still  seem to be living in the old imperial First Past the Post world. For example they still talk about electorate and list MPs as if there was a difference. In the other MMP country Germany nobody makes that distinctions and never has. In our current debate we still hear the myth that electorate MPs are supposed to be first class while list MPs second class. The former being accountable and being able to be voted out by the people while the later (only) being accountable to their parties, which put them on the list. This myth could not be further from the truth.

As one scientist quipped in the US context that MPs in safe seats are less accountable to the public than the members of the Stalinist polit-bureau. The later having changed much more often under public pressure that safe seats under First-Past-the-Post. As I already said in a 1992 debate in safe National seats like Te Kuiti or Southland Clutha the party can put a blue ribbon around a sheep dog and it will be elected.

This year the blue ribbon around Toddy in Clutha Southland got fairly tatty, leading to him leaving Parliament with his tail between his legs. This was largelky due to the efforts of some of the media.

Not even a conspiracy

Still every election where the results are not to the liking of the neo-liberal media inevitably the electoral system is blamed.

Even the media are labelled ‘neo-liberal’ now. Was that the cause of or a result of the ‘neo-liberal’ revolution in the 1980s?

The New Zealand media in general do not even try to conceal their disdain for our electoral system and democracy. After this year’s election, which as usual under proportional representation didn’t produce a clear winner with over 50% of the vote they almost demanded that the party with the most votes – as it two weeks later turned out to be 44% – be given the right to form the next government.

The fact that 56% had voted against the old government wasn’t ever worth a mention.

I’ve seen something like that mentioned quite a bit. For someone promoting the merits of MMP to be treating it as a binary for/against vote is curious.

It isn’t a fact that “56% had voted against the old government”. There is no way of knowing the reasons why each of 2,591,896 people voted, especially the 186,706 who voted NZ First.

ACT voters, some Maori Party voters and others may not have specifically voted against the old government. Even some of those who voted for the Greens may not have cared who runs the next Government, they may simply have wanted to ensure that the Greens retained a voice in Parliament (I have voted exactly that way in the past)

It was actually 55.6% who didn’t vote for National. And 63.1% who didn’t vote for Labour, 92.8% who didn’t vote NZ First, 93.7% who didn’t vote Green.

We didn’t have a new government on election night, Oh My God !

The media wouldn’t even allow for the final results to come out before crying out about New Zealand being taken hostage by a party with only just over 7% of the vote. They are just taking their time to negotiate and make up their minds. These media, editors, commentators, and pundits assumed that the New Zealand people of voting age are still like little children who cannot wait and want to open the presents under the tree before Christmas day. The only ones who can’t wait are the media themselves. This is the age of instant gratification after all.

It does seem that it is mainly some of the media who are impatient for a new government.

Another media beat-up in the crazy assumption that it will scare the people is the fact that for an interim period after every election the old government continues as caretaker government in charge of running the day to day business of government. However they are not allowed to introduce any policy changes of make major decisions.

This is portrayed as a terrible thing as if the country would not happily function for a few weeks or even months without a proper government.

I haven’t seen the caretaker government portrayed as a terrible thing, although I have heard some concerns expressed about New Zealand not actively reacting on the international stage. However New Zealand’s lack of input will hardly be missed by most of the world.

The other MMP country Germany held elections on the same weekend. The far right neo-liberal party (FDP) represents the interests of the the business community, which according to the media here cannot live without the certainty of a new government. One of their representatives just appeared on the most influential political TV talkshow. When asked about a coalition before Christmas he replied that such serious negotiations could not be rushed. The host’s only reply was that they just would have to wait.

Belgium a few years back was without a new government for about 18 months after their election. The people loved it as no harm and damage was done to them unlike to us by successive neo-liberal governments over the last 33 years.

A caretaker government won’t change what has been done by successive “neo-liberal governments” over the last 33 years. Gruber keeps confusing two things, our current political limbo under MMP, and his apparent obsession with and opposition to neo-liberalism. It’s worth pointing out that seven of the “neo-liberalist” governments we have had have been elected under MMP.

And it’s worth remembering that if the incoming government 33 years ago had done nothing for some time, and hadn’t taken drastic action, some fairly severe damage to the country is likely to have occurred.

The media still stuck in the First-Past-the-Post world ignore the fact that all this is totally normal under any proportional system in the world. They are seriously suggesting the we, the people, didn’t know what we were doing when we voted over the last 25 years not only once but three times for MMP – a far more democratic system than we had before.

More democratic, which has resulted in more representative Parliaments, but I wouldn’t say far more, and still misused and abused by parties and politicians when it suits their ambitions for power.

Concerted Attack

Following the mainstream media including the state owned broadcasters you cannot but conclude that we are witnessing a concerted attack on our electoral system. Not only do we read and hear comments by editors, political reporters and media personnel of the above nature. The media also give overwhelming space to totally outrageous and false comments in the letter pages and give a platform to anti MMP campaigners of ‘Dirty Politics‘ fame to spread their old disinformation and lies.

It seems we have been watching the Media attack on New Zealand’s democracy.

I think Grueber is right that some of the media has been overly critical of what our eight MMP election has delivered – a headline and scandal vacuum – but it nothing like a concerted attack.

Some journalists have actually suggested tweaks to our MMP, like lowering the threshold, and having a clearer system for forming a new government. I think both would be good improvements to the already better than most system of democracy that we have.

And a healthy democracy needs a critical media, even if they don’t always get things right, aren’t as balanced as they should be and get too excited about things that don’t matter much, like not having a new government for a few weeks.

Our system of democracy is pretty good, our governments over the last 33 years have in the main been pretty good (they will always annoy some of the people some of the time), and our media does a fairly good job most of the time.

We can be critical of the media, as they can be critical of our politicians and aspects of political system, but attacking media for an “attack on New Zealand’s democracy” is in a way an attack on our democracy as the media are an important part of it.

Journalists complaining about nothing much happening is not something most voters will care about.

Better that we look at how we can improve our way of doing democracy.

Ditch the MMP threshold

One pundit wants to throw out our entire MMP system because he doesn’t like waiting for the election result – see Is MMP too badly flawed? – but a tweak may be all we need to improve it.

Michael Wright at Stuff: It’s time to ditch the MMP threshold

MMP hasn’t had a great 2017. It hammered the minor parties on election night then got hammered itself for presiding over such a hammering. If voting systems had feelings, New Zealand’s would be doing it tough right now.

One change can fix this. It’s time to dispense with the 5 per cent threshold. Not just lower it, ditch it altogether. The rule that under MMP political parties must win at least 5 per cent of the party vote to enter Parliament is holding us back.

The threshold exists to ensure the right mix of stability and proportionality in government. Right now it is providing neither of those things.

There is no obvious sign that stability is a problem – yet at least – but proportionality is hampered by the high threshold.

Ditching the threshold would have three big advantages. First, it would greatly diminish the spectre of the wasted vote.

If we had no threshold TOP would have probably a few seats, proportional to their real support rather than support levels distorted by the threshold – if a party looks short of the threshold it tends to deter people from ‘wasting’ their vote.

More smaller parties in Parliament means less chance of one of them holding all the cards after election day, which is exactly what has just happened to New Zealand First.

If TOP had a few seats that would have provided National and possibly Labour+Greens other options, so Peters wouldn’t hold the key cards.

It would be an opportunity to simultaneously ditch the unpopular “coat-tails” clause, whereby below-threshold parties that win an electorate seat are entitled to cash in their meagre party vote share for a handful of list MPs.

I don’t think that’s a real problem, it only appears to be a problem due to the high threshold.

Since MMP was introduced, the only new parties to enter Parliament have been splinters from existing ones, led by sitting MPs. Breaking that trend, as TOP leader Gareth Morgan said, is a very tall order.

He failed, as has the Conservative party and the Internet Party despite being backed by big spenders.

The downside is that Parliament ends up a rogues gallery, with extremist or special interest parties disrupting everything and making coalition-building a nightmare. This is possible, but far-fetched.

Across eight MMP elections, the only real outliers that would have entered Parliament under a natural threshold were the Outdoor Recreation New Zealand party in 2002 and the Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party in 1996 and 1999. Even if a tiny hard-line party gained a foothold, our democracy is surely robust enough to handle it.

There is more chance of a small party MP contributing positively to Parliament than of being a ‘rogue’. We have had rogue MPs from larger parties.

That said, almost none of this is likely to happen. Voting systems are not lightly toyed with. When the Electoral Commission reviewed MMP in 2012, it recommended lowering the threshold to 4 per cent. It flirted with 3 per cent but baulked at such a “massive” reduction: “[It] would be a step too far at this stage … This is an area in which New Zealand should move cautiously and incrementally.”

That is unjustified conservatism. And it’s a nonsense that we haven’t even moved conservatively towards a fairer threshold.

Opponents of lowering the threshold promote a fear of being held to ransom by individuals or very small parties, but instead we remain held to ransom by large parties with large amounts of power, protecting their power by excluding fair representation.

Is MMP too badly flawed?

Inevitably after an election, especially an election with an uncertain outcome, those who probably never wanted MMP say how flawed it is.

Any democratic system involving more than one person has flaws.

It’s fair to keep questioning whether New Zealand’s system of MMP is too badly flawed, or whether a few tweaks will make it a bit less flawed than it is now and less flawed than most if not all alternatives.

But now, while we wait for the formation of our next government, is not an ideal time to jump to any conclusions.

Karl du Fresne writes: Voters lose control when the coalition negotiations begin

Voters hardly ever have much if any control over our politicians.

Anyone having second thoughts about MMP?

I’ve argued for years that we swapped one set of flaws for another when we voted in 1993 to change the electoral system. The events of the past 10 days have done nothing to reverse that perception.

So he seems to have never wanted MMP. Why should the events of the past 10 days change anyone’s mind about MMP? There may be a bit of limbo but there is no crisis, there is no urgency, there is nothing particularly abnormal or alarming about waiting for the final results in a close election.

The theory was that by denying absolute power to any one party – in effect, requiring parties to negotiate and compromise on key policies – the MMP system would force governments to become more accountable and consensus-driven.

A bonus was that by giving greater power to minor parties, MMP would deliver more diverse representation in Parliament.

At least that was the theory, and to some extent it has been proved right.

Under MMP, we have certainly had far more diverse parliaments.  The two-party duopoly has been broken, opening the way for a much wider range of ideological positions and agendas to be represented in Parliament, from the old-style populist Muldoonism of NZ First through to the environmentally-driven Greens and the race-based sectional interests of the Maori Party.

There have been definite improvements.

But has MMP delivered greater accountability, as its idealistic (and mostly Left-wing) promoters promised? Hmmm. That’s another matter entirely.

Here we encounter two problems. The first is that under MMP, 49 of the 120 MPs in Parliament are not directly accountable to voters. They are elected on the all-important party lists and have no constituents to answer to.

Rather, they owe their loyalty to the party organisation, on which they depend for their ranking on the lists and therefore for their career prospects.

In other words, it’s a system that prioritises loyalty to the party over any obligations to voters.

That’s a potential weakness, but the old FPP system also prioritised loyalty to the party, as does the electorate part of MMP. Sure things go to the public for a vote every now and again but the influence of parties dominates.

But arguably an even bigger flaw is the one that we again see in play following the recent election.

Not for the first time, New Zealand finds itself at the mercy of NZ First and its vain and fractious leader, Winston Peters. A man whose party won only 7.5 per cent of the vote on election day will determine who governs us for the next three years.

Whatever this is, it’s not democracy. It’s a travesty, and it’s made worse by Peters’ egotistical posturing.

Peters is posturing, but is it a real problem? If the media just left him alone until the final results are announced we would see no posturing.

New Zealand is not at the mercy of anyone. We are waiting for an election result, and Peters is sensible to wait for the result too.

But even without a rogue politician like Peters in the mix…

There is no evidence of peters being a rogue politician, yet at least. Grump and secretive, but he has not done anything undemocratic. Claims if using disproportionate power are unproven – power is currently on hold, it is not being abused or overused. We may or may not have reason to complain in a week or two, but for now things are very benign.

… the system is deeply – perhaps fatally – flawed. Because regardless of the result on election day, all bets are off once the votes are in.

So what? That’s what happened after every election in the past. We have a system of representative democracy, that’s how it was under FPP and that’s how it is under MMP. We vote, then we largely leave it to the politicians for three years. Changing back to FPP won’t change that markedly if at all.

At that stage the public cedes total control to the politicians, who disappear behind closed doors to decide which of the policies they campaigned on can be jettisoned and which bottom lines no longer matter. We, the voters, have no power to influence what concessions will be made in coalition negotiations.

We have no power to influence policies developed by parties either, unless we belong to one party, and even then an individual’s power is minute.

Whatever this is, it’s not democracy.

It is democracy as we have it.

What would be more democratic – allowing us all to vote on what parties should form a government? Allowing us to vote on what policies are decided on? Allowing us to vote on who will be Prime Minister and who will be deputy? Vote for every minister?

That may take two years to work things out rather than two weeks or two months.

Should all of us be able to vole for every bit of legislation?

A good case can be made for more public say in what legislation passes through Parliament, but most people don’t care most of the time what our politicians do. We vote, then we largely leave it to them, apart from having the occasional grizzle.

The almost comical paradox is that the MMP system, which supposedly returned power to the people, is virtually guaranteed to produce a result where one or more minor parties end up wielding influence grossly disproportionate to their public support.

This is often claimed. We have had seven governments formed under MMP and there is little or no evidence it is true. I don’t think we have ever came anywhere close to grossly disproportionate influence.

The politicians have become thoroughly acclimatised to it too and either fail to see, or don’t want to see, its fatal flaws. But I reckon we were sold a crock in 1993, and I want my money back.

If du Fresne wanted to take things back to ‘the good old days’ he should have voted for NZ First.

MMP has obvious flaws, but not as du Fresne claims.

Large parties have disproportionate power by hobbling MMP with a high threshold. MMP is flawed by design.

If small parties, especially new parties, weren’t kept out of Parliament by a ridiculous barrier then MMP would be less flawed.

It would still have it’s flaws, because flawed humans use it, often to their own advantage more than for the good of all people. But there is no democratic system that does any better for the people.

The biggest problem with post-election limbo is not MMP, it’s the impatience of journalists and opinion writers, who concoct unsubstantiated gripes to fill their columns and attract a few clicks.

Is MMP working?

Q+A is asking ‘is MMP working?’

Of course MMP is working – it just doesn’t work as well as some want it to work, and not as well as opponents of the system want.

First Past the Post worked, but quite poorly in some ways. The people were obviously unhappy with some of the results and practices, and voted for change.

We have now had seven  MMP elections, all with varying results.

There is no doubt we have a more representative Parliament, with more female MPs and much more ethnic diversity.

The grumbling has arisen right now because we have government in limbo, waiting for the final election results. This is the third time (out of seven) that we have had to wait weeks for things to be worked out.

In the meantime the country keeps ticking over successfully under a caretaker government. There’s no reason why we couldn’t operate reasonably well under a caretaker government for years. Voters don’t want governments that keep making major changes.

There’s certainly changes that could be made that would improve MMP, in some ways, but introducing different risks.

The critical thing is that our form of democracy works without too many problems, and no major problems. It’s not broken, but could be tweaked.

Would a lower threshold have made much difference?

The large parties have kept ensuring it remains very difficult for small parties to succeed or survive by keeping a ridiculously high threshold of 5%. A slightly more reasonable 4% was recommended, and many people have said it should be much lower.

No new parties that didn’t have MPs who had jumped ship have succeeded in getting into Parliament in 21 years of MMP.

What would the election result have looked like with no threshold? From Rediit What Parliament could have been if there was no 5% minimum

Actual seats (provisional):


Seats with no 5% threshold (provisional)



That would have brought 5 MPs from 3 parties into Parliament that didn’t make it.

This wouldn’t have changed the National+NZ First majority much (58 to 54, still a clear majority) but it would have left Labour+NZ First+Green short on 59 (they have a bare majority 61 seats now).

However also noted at Reddit:

Of course, if there was no 5% minimum, peoples voting behavior would have changed.

I suspect greens would have gotten less, with TOP and maybe United Future getting more.

And if we had also had no threshold last election the Conservatives and Internet-Mana may have been in Parliament and in the mix this election. Even a slightly lower 4% could have made a significant difference.

Keeping the 5% threshold in place is keeping new parties out of Parliament and gradually squeezing small parties out too. At one stage polls suggested that both NZ First and Greens were at risk of missing the cut.

Thresholds in other countries:

  • Germany 5%
  • Poland 5%
  • Israel 3.25% (it has gradually been increased)
  • Turkey 10%
  • Netherlands effectively 0.67%
  • Slovenia effectively 4%
  • Sweden 4%

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe recommends for parliamentary elections a threshold not higher than 3%.

There are some variations. In New Zealand if a party wins an electorate seat the threshold doesn’t apply to them, in Germany they have a 3 seat exemption.

But this is probably all futile pondering, National and Labour seem intent on excluding fair representation by maintaining a high 5% barrier to protect their own interests at the expense of  fair democracy.

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.