MMP is one of the best things New Zealand has done

by Mr Wainscotting

There’s a bit of debate going on at the moment (I say ‘a bit’ – there’s a little rhetoric on either side, but not actually much debate) around New Zealand’s voting system.

MMP (or Mixed Member Proportional for those who, like me till I wiki’d it just now, thought it meant Mixed Member of Parliament :/ ) is often accused of allowing the smaller parties to hold the balance of power and to force the larger parties to take up their policy – a case of ‘tail wags the dog,’ as you may often hear.  Proponents of MMP will try to assuage such criticisms by saying that’s not the case.

But that is the case (and here’s the kicker) by design! Furthermore, it’s a good thing. MMP grants the smaller parties greater power by actually giving them the share of the seats that the voters want them to have. Sure, there’s an issue of some parties getting in when polling below the 5% threshold, in spite of receiving fewer votes than some other parties*, but this affects only a tiny fraction of actual seats in the house, and can be fixed by tweaking the system, not throwing out MMP altogether.

* EDIT: this sentence was originally different, but it was pointed out to me that it was wrong, so I amended it to make more sense.

Of the four other options that we will be voting on in the referendum, none of them comes close to providing the fair and proportional system that MMP does. First Past the Post and Supplementary Member systems both actively discriminate against voters. Under those systems, if I were to live in Ashburton, for example, and vote for Labour, I’d have to move somewhere like Dunedin for my vote to count – my vote would be wasted purely based on where I live. This was the same kind of criticism that has been thrown at FPP since the 50’s, and was especially pronounced in 1978 an 1981 when National won more seats in spite of Labour receiving more votes. SM, which John Key has declared the better system, doesn’t really fix this, as ¾ of the seats are still FPP – only a fraction of the seats actually reflect what the people voted for. I once described SM as FPP with a hat – presumably a proportional hat, to dress it up as fair, but that’s just a façade. I’m not always good at writing analogies :/

The Electoral Commission’s website on the referendum has stats to show that while PV and STV might look better, they still can’t hold a candle to MMP’s ability to truly represent the will of the public. Obviously the Electoral Commission has to remain neutral, but looking at their site, you can only say MMP is bad if you don’t think that the votes of minorities should count.

But why do this all matter here? I.e. why is Mr Wainscotting writing this on a queer blog rather than a political forum or something?  You may have noticed my use of the words ‘discriminate’ and ‘minorities’ in the above paragraphs – I assure you it was very deliberate. People who aren’t straight, pākehā, cisgendered males have enjoyed considerably greater representation since MMP was introduced, and while we still have a considerable way to go, we’re certainly making progress.

In the last couple of decades, we have seen a great increase of the numbers of female, queer, Māori and other minority representatives. Now, surely this was part of larger movements, and not the result of MMP. Well, yes, civil rights and representation have been marching forward for a long time now. Homosexual law reform, the establishment of the Waitangi Tribunal, women’s suffrage – these things all happened before under FPP, and society is moving towards greater equality, but switching to MMP is a part of that – another step along that path.

We shouldn’t take any steps backwards on the road to equality, and the ability to elect representatives proportional to the actual demographics of our nation is definitely a step forward. Don’t listen to the rhetoric that MMP has allowed parties to hold power over politicians, or that it’s resulted in more childish catfights and name calling in the house – that’s been the case since the first party was formed in 1891, and political muckraking and churlishness have been a staple since the very beginning of politics itself. If you think proportionality and equality are important, vote to retain MMP. If you think MMP is good but could do with improvement, vote to retain MMP – the Electoral Commission will review it anyway to see if it can recommend any improvements.

What you shouldn’t do, is vote to remove the voices of minorities and grant the majority a disproportionally large share of parliament.

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One thought on “MMP is one of the best things New Zealand has done

  1. Pingback: In which I swear a bit… | missingsparkles

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