MMP referendum on the way

by Jake Quinn

The government has announced that there will be a referendum on MMP at the next election, with another one likely the one after, if a decision needs to made on which one to change to.

“The first referendum will ask two questions: the first will ask voters if they wish to change the voting system from MMP.  The second will ask what alternative voting system they would prefer, from a list of options,” Mr Power told NZPA and the Herald.

While I’m generally not opposed to such a referendum, my disappointment is that we are not being given an option, right from the beginning, to change MMP rather than abandon it.

I get the feeling that many people think it’s stupid that NZ First can get nearly 5% of the vote and not have any MPs in parliament (because of the 5% threshold for political parties who don’t win an electorate seat), but that ACT and United Future can get a few percent and get a bunch of MPs (because their leaders won electorates).

What’s more, people tend to think, for whatever reason, that list MPs are less important than electorate MPs and that perhaps we could have less of them.  This holds some merit (list MPs are only accountable to their parties, not directly to a group of electors) and study’s have shown that it is possible to maintain proportionality while slightly reducing the number of list MPs vis-a-vis electorate MPs (ie introducing another 10 or so electorates).

My greatest problem with MMP is that it is not really a multi-party system because in order to start a minor party you pretty much have to have it break away from a major party.  In terms of their route to parliament, ACT came from Labour, NZ First came from National, the Greens came from the Alliance which came from New Labour which came from Labour, United Future came from Labour, the Maori Party came from Labour.  The list goes on.

To get rid of this problem, which gives a natural advantage to the major parties (National and Labour) and forces hopefuls to join them if they want a political career – the threshold needs to come down, probably to 3%.  This would keep out the really nut case fringe (like the National Front) but allow serious people to create minor parties and have an actual chance of getting into parliament.

But of course, this would be in neither the interests of National or Labour.