Heather Roy

8 October 2017

Those reading media headlines and listening to political party leaders over the past two weeks could be forgiven for thinking that MMP stands for Moral Mandate Presides. There’s been more talk of mandates that you can shake a stick at. But while Winston Peters procrastinates and basks in media fascination about his every move I guess there is nothing much else for the leaders to talk about other than their ‘moral authority’.

So for the past two weeks we’ve heard why the National leader or the Labour leader has the moral mandate to be the first to negotiate with New Zealand First. Yesterday, after special votes were counted and the final election result announced, both leaders quickly proclaimed that they had the ‘moral mandate’.

In fact there is no moral mandate under MMP. It’s a numbers game – just like every other democratic electoral system. The only mandate lies with the party or coalition of parties that can convince the Governor General they have the numbers to govern on matters of confidence and supply. They become the Government. It is very simple really – a race to the finish line.

Only one journalist has made this point – thank you Barry Soper for pointing out the blindingly obvious here.

So, negotiations start in earnest today we are told. Nothing has changed since election day. New Zealand First can still make either Bill English or Jacinda Ardern Prime Minister, just as he could have two weeks ago. Peters is enjoying watching them dance on the head of a pin, and enjoying the publicity even more. In each of the previous three elections John Key had announced the government and his Ministers by now. There’s no reason at all why this couldn’t have been the story on the 6 o’clock news last night, except for the Peters procrastination. Five more days to go … I’m sure the cartoonists have their pencils sharpened for puppet cartoons between now and then.

But on a serious note, even after 8 MMP elections we are still grappling with a system we consider to be new. Oliver Hartwich, Executive Director of the New Zealand Initiative, has written an excellent article – MMP for Beginners – from a position of real moral authority because he grew up in an MMP environment. He sums up exactly where New Zealand is at in its Mixed Member Proportional evolution: “most New Zealanders speak MMP with a cute first-past-the-post accent”. We’ve got a way to go yet before the system is bedded in.