22 September 2017
It has been fascinating watching the last week of the election campaign roll out from afar. I voted early because I’ve been out of the country all week and won’t be back until after the votes are counted.
With the pressure off to decide who to vote for my mind has turned to the mechanics of maneuvering and machinations between the bigger and smaller parties. I’ve seen the latest poll results, read the odd opinion piece when I’ve had access to the internet and thought lots about the disadvantage the minor parties are at when the popularity tide goes in and out for the two old parties. The only conclusions I’ve come to are reinforcements of views I’ve formed from previous elections.
My first conclusion is that our electoral cycle is too short – far too short to be exact. A three year cycle allows a government a year to settle in, a year to get things done and the third year to get re-elected. This short cycle punishes long term thinking because of the constant focus on retaining power and therefore what the swinging voter might think, rather than doing the right thing for the country. We’ve had several three term (9 year) governments in recent political times. Each has looked to be running out of steam by its final term in office, despite not fulfilling the mandate given it by the public at election times. I think this is in large part because of the short electoral term where governments are distracted by having to go back to the polls every three years. Personally I’d be willing to take a punt on a 5 year term, but I suspect that is a bridge too far for the majority of the public. So I’d settle for four years – it would be a step in the right direction and we’d see better policy thinking and action as a result.
My second conclusion is that the threshold for parties without an electorate seat is too high. The German MMP system we adopted in 1996 dictated our current 5 percent threshold. When I was an MP with a small elected party our focus was first to retain our one electorate seat, then to promote our policies elsewhere around the country for the party vote. This overlooks the fact that minor parties have ideas that are frequently not promoted by bigger parties, but benefit New Zealand and New Zealanders. MMP was meant to bring better representation of the NZ public. If politics is the contest of ideas our current system sets the hurdle too high. There is also an inherent unfairness when a party gets close to the 5% threshold but fails to make it to parliament while a party with one seat gets around 1 percent of the party vote and does have a parliamentary presence.
So, this election I’m advocating electoral reform. A four year electoral term and dropping the threshold to 3 percent (but willing to negotiate up to four if necessary). The eve of the election seems a perfect time to launch such an initiative!