It is voting season here in New Zealand and I hope you'll excuse me while I talk a little bit about MMP. We have used the MMP system since 1993, however now we are faced with a choice on what voting system we would like to have. I have written a bit about MMP these last couple of days and am sharing my thoughts here.
A common complaint I have heard is "there are too many MPs in parliament, MMP sucks". Unfortunately this logic is a little flawed as every system in the referendum mandates 120 MPs in parliament, the committee in charge of the referendum has stated that this is not something that will change. In all the available voting system there will always be opposition MPs and all the bickering and infighting that brings. What changes is how fairly each voting system represents the desires of New Zealanders in the makeup of their parliament.
Another common suggestion I have heard is "NZ politics sucks, I want change". Firstly, what is it you want to change? Your desire for change might be better represented by your choice of political party, rather than voting system. I am a staunch defender of people's right to choose whatever party they like, but I do not like the idea of having a voting system that does not reflect the desires of voters. The ballot box is the most say the majority of us have in the shape of our country; it would be a horrible shame to see our votes wasted or distorted by an alternative voting scheme.
The reason we now have MMP is because for two terms under FPP Labour got more votes overall, but National still won the most seats. So you had an Al Gore/Bush situation where the makeup of parliament did not represent what a majority of voters desired. In addition to that, in 1978 the leading minor party polled at 16%, yet got just one seat in parliament. 16% is not a small number of votes; it is nearly double Christchurch's population. Yet because their candidates were not popular enough to win electorate seats, the bulk of those votes were effectively wasted.
There has also been very little talk about what is up for review, should MMP be chosen by the majority. The referendum website states:
- The thresholds for getting into Parliament (5% or an electorate seat).
- That a candidate can stand in an electorate and be on the party list, which voters can't control.
- That a party (such as ACT) can have 5 seats in parliament, despite only winning a single electorate seat and less than 5% of the party vote.
A complaint I haven't heard, but will address anyway: MMP overinflates the interests of minority groups. By this I mean that minor parties can gain 1/120th of the power in parliament and potentially hold the balance of power. One the one hand, to get in a party must gain 5% of the vote which is 200,000 New Zealanders; not exactly a trivial number of people. Or they must gain an electorate seat; this is up for review.
Please do not just vote "change for the sake of change". If you want change please make it an informed choice: www.referendum.org.nz/votingsystems has details on each scheme. Remember that if an alternative scheme currently favours your preferrred party, that does not make it better. Times change and 3 years down the track your preferred party may end up unfairly disadvantaged by the same system that favoured them previously. That is why I believe in a system that fairly represents the desires of all New Zealanders. I may not agree with how many people vote, but I do respect and defend their right to a fair vote.
I hope this explains the issues a little bit and why I believe MMP is the best voting system available to us. I live in an electorate "blessed" with Gerry Brownlea's presence, which means he is almost guaranteed to win the electorate vote. Under most other systems this would mean my vote for anything else is now wasted. At least under MMP it doesn't matter as my party vote still determines exactly what the makeup of parties in parliament is and I can feel empowered and satisfied that my vote really did count.
If you wish to see my views on political party choice, I have documented this elsewhere. Regular balloon coverage will resume as soon as the weather improves. The software and hardware has been well tested and is ready for it's next outing, as am I; all I need now is a good steady SW wind in the upper atomosphere. Last prediction I ran placed the balloon in Reefton!
In researching this post I came across the curious method by which parliament decides on motions. Motions must be raised by members, who are then free to debate and ammend the motion, before the Speaker puts the motion to the house. The house then usually proceeds with a voice vote, where members vote "aye" or "no". The speaker then determines which decision was in the majority, and this is usally awarded in favour of the ruling party. If a member of the favoured vote disgrees they may now voice their disagreement and ask for a party vote, or a personal vote, both of which are recorded in written form.
A party vote is not as clear cut as it sounds, as individual members of a party may agree, disagree, or abstain. The leader of each party then advises the Speaker on how their party is voting.
In a personal vote, members must physically vote by walking through one of two doorways into the "ayes" lobby, or the "noes" lobby. The lobbies are then locked (!!) and members in each lobby must then vote or abstain. Curiosuly they must vote the same way they did in the voice vote, unless they specifically voiced their disagreement.