Posts Tagged ‘MMP’

Scrap undemocratic thresholds!

November 10, 2008

New Zealand has voted in a new government, and this outcome would not be altered by variations on the current 5% MMP threshold, but…

The 5% threshold is nothing more than a disgraceful Labour & National gerrymander designed to inhibit the number & size of the minor parties that get elected, and consequently keep the 2 big parties entrenched (alternately) in power. A truly shameful and undemocratic farce. No Right Turn and Graeme Edgeler have both blogged on this already (update: and so has National party activist David Farrar at Kiwiblog and a more rational post by Green party member Ari at

Tiddler parties find it relatively easy to get the 500 voters they need signed up as party members, so they can register their party and have it appear on the list of parties (so they can get a share of the party vote). But the hurdle is then enormous to get enough party votes to cross the ‘5%  of the party vote’ threshold to actually get MP’s allocated to their party (roughly 110,000 votes). So ‘conservative Christian’ Kiwi Party and ‘single-issue’ Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party parties register, but with only 11,659 and 7,589 votes respectively, they have no chance of passing the 5% threshold.

There is a backdoor way of avoiding the 5% threshold – get 1 or more electorate MP’s elected, and any amount of party vote your party has is counted. For example, Jim Anderton keeps winning Wigram electorate, so his 0.93% of the party vote is counted (though it is not high enough to get him a second list MP).

But what would the NZ election outcome look like if there was no 5% threshold? Depending on round-off, NZ First would have gained 5 list MP’s, and the Kiwi Party and The Bill & Ben Party would have got 1 list MP each, at the expense of 1 ACT, 2 Labour and 4 National list MP’s. Of course, if the voting public knew they had no threshold, the chances of the ‘joke’ Bill & Ben Party getting that many votes is far lower.

With 120 MP’s (unless there is an overhang, caused by a party winning more electorate seats than their proportion of the party vote would have given them), there is a ‘natural’ threshold of 0.83% of the party vote – every time a party wins 0.83% of the party vote, they get another list MP.

So having no threshold means a party either wins electorate seats or gets chunks of 0.83% of the party vote to get each list MP. This then gets complicated by the problem of what to do with the tiny proportions of party vote that aren’t enough to get that party another list MP. That is, if a party gets 2.7% of the party vote, that entitles them to 3 list MP’s (3 x 0.83% = 2.5%) but leaves 0.2% of the vote ‘wasted’ – not enough to get another MP.

So the Chief Electoral Officer junks the party votes that don’t earn another MP, or don’t give enough votes for a party to get even 1 list MP (assuming that party didn’t win an electorate seat). They then recalculate the party vote share based on this new, slightly smaller ‘pie’ of 120 MP’s, and allocate enough list MP’s to add with each parties electorate MP’s to get their total ‘slice of the pie’.

Removing the threshold altogether does run the risk of ‘extreme’ or ‘joke’ parties winn ing a list MP, but that is democracy – if people vote that party in, they should get the representative of their choice. And the prospect of joke MP’s is lower when people know there is a lower threshold. But even if such ‘extreme’ or ‘joke’ parties get an MP, they would have little impact. Peter Dunne & Jim Anderton have next to no impact on laws, with just 1 MP each.

But a large part of that is because party vote is rounded up or down to make whole list MP’s (instead of 1/4 a list MP, say). Truncating party vote means parties have to actually earn every vote to make up 0.83% of the party vote to get each list MP. Meaning the Kiwi Party, with 0.56% of the party vote would not get any MP’s, instead of having their 0.56% rounded up to 0.83% and get 1 list MP (and have Taito Phillip Field’s NZ Pacific Party – on 0.33% of the party vote – get rounded down to nothing).

Time to junk the 5% threshold – it is undemocratic, totalatarian nonsense. Of course, scrapping the 5% threshold just makes MMP more democratic – there is a whole other debate on why a party-based electoral system like MMP is nowhere near as democratic as it should be… (think MP’s ignoring overwhelming public opinion on issues that they hope will go away before the next election).


Political pundit poppycock

August 13, 2008

Gak! The paucity of useful political analysis in NZ has just been shown yet again, with Canterbury University politics fellow Dr Terese Arsenau blithering on at TVNZ about Labour’s chances of retaining government in this year’s election.

What distinguishes an otherwise bland statement of facts from the nonsense laid out, is that Arsenau is still wedded to the old First Past the Post (FPP) electoral mindset. She ponders “whether the Greens – or the Maori Party – would think it appropriate to prop up Labour” if Labour got substantially less MP’s than National (but both National and Labour were short of 50% of seats). According to Arsenau:

Would such an arrangement be judged as a legitimate outcome or the hijack of the election from the rightful winner? 

This shows Arsenau still thinks a government must have a ‘large party’ (i.e. National or Labour) as the major player in a government. MMP possibilities (assuming no overhang for simplicity)  like a government of 61 MPs from 61 separate parties is possible, though hugely unlikely. Equally, a government of 3 parties each with 21 MPs – giving a majority with 63 MPs – does not require any one party in the coalition government to be dominant.

Even if one party in a coalition government is dominant, that does not mean they can – or should – expect to get support and laws passed in direct proportion to their proportion of the coalition governments seats (the much lamented ‘tail wagging the dog’). The balance depends on how closely aligned the colaitions party positions are.

Labour had no trouble supporting a Green Member’s Bill (S59 amendment), and taking most of the flack instead of Sue Bradford and the Greens – because most Labour MP’s also supported that law change. By contrast, Labour’s dominant position in the 2005-08 government has not meant an easy ride for their Emmissions Trading Scheme Bill, which may yet fail to get passed due to lack of Green party support. Why? Because the way Labour has framed the Bill has been so far from Green party views on how to tackle emmissions, that they are struggling to support Labour on it.

So, Arsenau’s contention that there is some ‘moral obligation’ for minor parties to support the single largest party to form a coalition government is blithering nonsense. Any group of parties that can get a majority of MPs to support them on confidence & supply votes can form a government.

The true ‘viability test’ for a coalition government is how they manage the legislative demands of the coalition’s respective parties to get a ‘fair’ balance that satisfies each party enough to stay in the coalition. That is something each party currently judges with an eye to how many successes they want and who they can blame for failures, at the next election. Perhaps this ad hoc system of legislative balance is something Arsenau could illuminate?