The MacDoctor has made it clear on a number of occasions that he prefers the Supplementary Member system of voting. He likes the way it preserves the cut and thrust of the FPP-style electoral vote instead of the rather insipid take-it-or-leave-it attitude prevalent in MMP. While the electorate vote is still important for individuals and small parties, it loses its meaning for the larger parties under MMP. They then become tempted to make deals like the infamous tea-party at Epsom. There is more authenticity and accountability in a winner-takes-all contest that actually matters in the final seat allocation. SM also caters to the proportionalists amongst us by providing proportionally allocated seats as well. The net result is a system that provides many of the good things from both FPP and MMP.
Pure democracy needs to be tempered”
Be that as it may, New Zealand has voted to keep MMP (Much More Peters). This is not a particularly surprising result to the referendum. I suspect that New Zealanders in general don’t care a whit about voting systems and want to avoid the fresh pain of trying out a new system when they are barely used to MMP. Clearly, National did not consider this something worth fighting over, as their sole contribution to the debate seems to have been John Key mentioning that he prefers SM. One hopes he meant Supplementary Member…
Key now says that he thinks MMP is a bit “weird”. By this he means that you can have nearly 50% of the popular vote and still be struggling to put together a government. This is because MMP is very democratic and, unfortunately, democracy does not necessarily deliver good government. Consider the hypothetical situation where everyone could vote on every piece of legislation. This would be perfect democracy. It would also be chaos. People are self-interested and would vote almost exclusively for the comfortable instead of the necessary.
We need good government to make the less palatable, hard decisions. This is why FPP and SM, while less democratic, often (but not always) provide better government. Pure democracy needs to be tempered. This is one of the reasons why, regardless of voting system, governments have terms of office. This further mitigates democracy and allows actual governance rather than mob rule.
New Zealand has opted to keep a proportional system. We will now have to live with that. The consequence of this will be that those hard decisions will be harder to make. Some will be impossible. On the other hand, no one party will be able to follow hard line ideology, as they will find their coalition partners baulking. Swings and roundabouts, maybe.
At least we get to tweak MMP. Already you can see positioning going on, with people talking about lowering the threshold and removing the electoral seat “lifeboat”. MacDoctor says that we should avoid tinkering and FIX the system. He has two suggestions to put into the mix:
The first is that, if we are going to have proportional representation – even with its inherent disadvantages – the very least we can do is make sure that it is really proportional. This means that the threshold needs to go completely. It’s function was to place a barrier to prevent “joke” parties and single interest parties entering parliament. I think we can safely say that this strategy has failed miserably. This election sees Harawira, Banks and Peters in parliament while the relatively sane Conservative party sits outside with 2.6% of the vote. This is clearly not proportional. Besides, it might be fun to have a stoner from the Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party in the house…
The threshold merely serves to arbitrarily keep minor parties out. It does NOT make it easier to govern. It fact, Key might well have benefitted from the Conservatives being in parliament on this occasion.
The electorate lifeboat would automatically be redundant if there was no threshold.
The second thing that distorts MMP is the Maori seats with their inherent potential for overhang. Without the threshold there is no longer any particular reason to keep racially designed seats (if there ever was a good reason). I am certain that if the Maori party pitched itself at the party vote, it would find its seats in parliament pretty much unchanged, and perhaps improved. Bear in mind that the low percentage showing in the Maori party vote is entirely because the vote is not actively sought. Frankly, the MacDoctor finds the current system as it stands intensely paternalistic and patronising and wonders how the Maori people stand it.
These two things would sort out most of the problems with MMP, leaving only the governance issue. But that is clearly a fight for another day…