Heather Roy

8 October 2017

New Zealand has just held its 8th election under the MMP (Mixed Member Proportional) system. Introduced in 1996, it replaced the First Past the Post (FPP) system of electing government. Over the years I have been asked many times what I think of MMP. Has it worked? My answer has always been that it delivers much better representation of the New Zealand population but it comes with slower decision making and compromise. Personally I believe MMP serves New Zealand well, and not because I wouldn’t have been elected to parliament (or stood) under FPP!

Some see consultation and compromise as a negative, but I think the canvassing of many views to arrive at decisions that most agree with is positive. Politics is after all, the contest of ideas. MMP, with greater representation of our increasingly diverse population, facilitates this contest. Over the history of MMP in New Zealand the Green Party and ACT for example have brought policy initiatives to the table that would never have gained traction under the old FPP system. That is a good thing.

After eight elections and the sky not falling in, it is time to lose the trainer wheels of MMP. Our electoral system could be improved in several ways, first by removing the five percent threshold for parties who don’t win an electorate seat. Under our current system these votes are ‘wasted’ and redistributed amongst the other parties proportionately according to the election result. This practice isn’t representative of the views of voters. This election 2.4% of kiwis voted for TOP. Those 63,261 voters didn’t give their support to that party for 44% of the TOP votes to go to the National party or 37% of them to go Labour – but they did. Because people worry about wasting their vote many decide not to risk supporting the minor party they believe in and lodge a compromise vote instead or don’t vote at all. These situations would be avoided by abandoning the threshold and the result not as different as many think.

‘Your NZ’ blogger Pete George wrote a post on this last week and it is well worth a read here. Had there been no threshold in the 2017 election the results would have looked like this:

Party % of Party Vote Number of Seats
National 44.4% 53
Labour 36.9% 44
NZ First 7.2% 9
Green Party 6.3% 8
TOP 2.4% 3
Maori Party 1.2% 1
ACT 0.5% 1
Aoteroa Legalise Cannabis Party 0.3% 1

At this point in the debate someone always says that we have to have a threshold to “keep out the crazies”. Who are these crazies? Do we not live in a democracy where freedom of speech and freedom of association is prized? And if a party gets enough votes to gain a seat in parliament it should be representing those voters.

The bottom line is that the 5% threshold is inhibiting voters to support the ideas and beliefs they hold. It is also causing disenfranchisement of the minor parties and distorting the ability of governments to be formed in a truly representative way. Arguments to lower the threshold to say 3% or 4% merely shift the problem a little. So, trainer wheels off, let’s get the balancing act right and we can then move into a more mature way of engaging in an MMP environment.