Legal Beagle by Graeme Edgeler

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Legal Beagle: Coalition of Losers

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  • Lucy Stewart, in reply to Pat Hackett,

    Polls suggest MMP is looking fairly safe. Unless the New Citizens Party wins the Botany by-election. It is ironic that this would be a nightmare scenario for the MMP referendum.

    Really? Even in the off-chance that they do, I don't see it being a "nightmare scenario" unless they then started polling quite well in the party vote, which doesn't seem hugely likely.

    I'm also not sure "ironic" is quite the word you were looking for, given that such a result would highlight a well-debated flaw in the MMP system, which is...predictable?

    Amherst, MA • Since Nov 2006 • 2093 posts Report Reply

  • ScottY,

    Parties have always reneged on election promises. Under FPP a party would promise one thing, and then when in power do another. That is one of the reasons why the FPP system was thrown out. Voters were dismayed over the policies of the two major parties in the mid eighties and early nineties, and the fact that the parties routinely reneged on their election promises.

    I think most voters understand that if you vote for a political party in an MMP environment and it helps to form a government, you’re probably not going to get everything the party promises. If that party is the dominant player in a coalition arrangement then you would expect that party’s policies to be at the forefront. If they give too much then voters are likely to punish them in three years. It is harder for the smaller parties, because they will inevitably get fewer policy wins and risk being associated with a party whose policies do not largely align with their own. I imagine, for example, that ACT voters are generally more comfortable with a National government than most Maori Party voters are.

    That’s what makes post-election discussions so tricky. We’ve been fortunate to date that after every MMP election a government has been formed without difficulty (although we had to wait an eternity in ’96), but that may not continue.

    The reality with any system of representative democracy (FPP, MMP or any other system) is that you still have to rely on the people you elect to do what they said they would do. Often they don’t. If you’re not happy with them you get to vote them out next election.

    Yorke of The Atatu • Since Feb 2009 • 790 posts Report Reply

  • Graeme Edgeler,

    The argument here, when stripped down to its essence, appears to be that Guyon Espiner gets to decide what is a legitimate coalition government and what is not.

    No. Guyon Espiner had someone ask 1000 people their opinion on a matter and he reported the results.

    And John Key claimed a moral mandate to govern if National came first [by a reasonable margin?].

    Perhaps Guyon had them ask because John Key had made that claim. Perhaps he had them ask because a bunch of people were telling him that that was the case, or because it had been running hot on talk radio. I don't know. But I do believe the story would have been different had the poll gone the other way: "John Key's claim for 'moral mandate' rejected by voters" etc.

    Wellington, New Zealand • Since Nov 2006 • 3009 posts Report Reply

  • Pat Hackett, in reply to Lucy Stewart,

    "Nightmare scenario" in that a win by the NCP would scare a lot of jittery horses, just prior to the referendum.

    "Ironic" in that the valid formation of a new party under MMP, could lead to the demise of MMP.

    All very unlikely, however. I don't think our immigrant population vote like sheep, and I fully expect National to retain Botany (with Maggie Barry - she seems just the sort of new face Key would want).

    Auckland • Since Oct 2010 • 95 posts Report Reply

  • Mikaere Curtis,

    It is harder for the smaller parties, because they will inevitably get fewer policy wins and risk being associated with a party whose policies do not largely align with their own. I imagine, for example, that ACT voters are generally more comfortable with a National government than most Maori Party voters are.

    A moderating factor, for voters who give their party vote to a smaller party, could be whether the their is a change of government. Voting out a disliked government is quite a fillip in its own right.

    Anyway, there seems to be a convention that the party that gets the most party votes is the first cab off the rank when it comes to post-election negotiations, and if they can't cobble together some kind of arrangement, then they really don't deserve to govern, do they ?

    Tamaki Makaurau • Since Nov 2006 • 455 posts Report Reply

  • James Littlewood*,

    This rests on the premise that people vote for policies, and parties, and rationally. They don't, nor should they have to. Just 'cause it's called the party vote doesn't mean they're not voting - with perfect legitimacy - for people or emotions.

    One of the criteria for a party's electability (?) is that it appears serious about governing. In some cases, that precludes parties making pre-election announcenents of which parties it would consider working with post-election.

    Auckland • Since Mar 2008 • 213 posts Report Reply

  • Conan McKegg,

    The thing is that a Mixed Member Proportional system is just that - Mixed.

    It isn't about any single party winning. Getting 48% of the vote doesn't make you the winner, and NZ needs to get out of that line of thinking.

    MMP is about creating a government that better represents the population and the policies that population supports.

    Under MMP there is nothing stopping Labour and National from forming a coalition other than years of FPP history. When you look at their policies, a Labour National coalition would be a brilliant thing. Unfortunately their members are still stuck in the FPP frame of mind.

    The way to look at it is this. It isn't about comparing National to Labour. It's about asking why should 48% of the seats in government have more say than the other 52%?

    The Coalition/Mixed Member structure ensures that no single group dominates the leadership. Labour would find it hard to pass policy that National, the Greens, and ACT (for example) are against. In other words - it is a proper democratic system that allows for most laws only being able to be passed if the majority of NZers are likely to support them.

    A single party government is neither representative, nor fair. It will ONLY represent it's proportion of the population and will continue to pass laws that only that proportion are supportive of. Furthermore, there is less ability for other parties to hinder those laws or keep that party restrained.

    MMP is by no means perfect, but a lot of NZ's issues with it still stem from some people not understanding that it isn't about having a single clear winner. It's about forming a government capable of compromising and being moderate.

    Frankly, if a party cannot compromise and work with another party to improve the running of this country, I - for one - would not want to see that party in power. I prefer to see a coalition that represents a broader cross section of the country - because that ensures fairer laws. It isn't about minorities controlling the country - that's a lie and anyone who claims otherwise knows they are telling a lie.

    Minorities are able to ensure that their interests are also considered and fairly addressed rather than being ignored except at the grace of the majority.

    Democracy isn't majority rule - it is fair representation. MMP provides this. FPP did not.

    Wellington • Since Jan 2011 • 4 posts Report Reply

  • Conan McKegg,

    A moderating factor, for voters who give their party vote to a smaller party, could be whether the their is a change of government. Voting out a disliked government is quite a fillip in its own right.

    Anyway, there seems to be a convention that the party that gets the most party votes is the first cab off the rank when it comes to post-election negotiations, and if they can't cobble together some kind of arrangement, then they really don't deserve to govern, do they ?

    I completely agree. A good government should be able to negotiate, reason and compromise. If a party can't do that - then they don't have the skills to lead.

    They also aren't representative of the majority of the country - because if the other parties CAN negotiate and compromise, then they are a unified front that makes up a larger proportion of the population's votes anyway.

    We need to get away from the schoolyard politics of there can be only one winner and everyone else is a runner up.

    Wellington • Since Jan 2011 • 4 posts Report Reply

  • Christiaan,

    a clear two-party group – ideally with meaningful crossover in their general policy direction – can much more easily claim the indirect public mandate needed for political legitimacy than can a politically-diverse multi-party grouping.

    Not necessarily. The more diverse and the larger the group the more legitimate in my mind. I'd also rather see an end to major parties, with more medium size parties that can represent more diverse interests.

    London, UK • Since Dec 2006 • 120 posts Report Reply

  • Christiaan, in reply to Conan McKegg,

    Democracy isn't majority rule - it is fair representation.

    It would be more accurate to say "representative democracy isn't majority rule - it is fair representation." It's worth being precise because we need to remember that representative democracy isn't the only form, let alone the highest.

    London, UK • Since Dec 2006 • 120 posts Report Reply

  • Moz,

    While you're talking about what you're going to write about, you made a comment about STV that I still don't understand:

    But some of my vote could still go to someone I’m not a fan of?

    , on two counts. First, I'm not aware of an STV system actually used where lower preferences count less than higher ones, so "some of my vote" doesn't go anywhere, the whole thing filters down the list; and the entire point of optional preferences is that your vote can never go to someone you don't like. The idea that I should prefer Density Chruch over Family Fist (or vice versa) seems foolish, if for no other reason than that time spent thinking about the issue is time wasted. I would rather not vote than vote for either of them.
    If you could explain how only part of my vote goes to candidates down my list, and also why I should vote for someone I believe should not be elected I'd appreciate it.

    Sydney, West Island • Since Nov 2006 • 491 posts Report Reply

  • Graeme Edgeler, in reply to Moz,

    First, I’m not aware of an STV system actually used where lower preferences count less than higher ones

    It's perhaps easiest with an example:

    There are 60 voters, electing 2 people under STV from 4 candidates. As soon as a candidates get more than 20 votes, they are elected (because its not possible for 3 candidates to get more than 20 votes.

    You vote, in order, Candidate A, then B, C and finally D.

    After the first preferences are counted up:

    Candidate A has 25 votes
    C has 16 votes
    D has 10 votes
    And B has 9 votes.

    Candidate A - your favoured candidate - has more votes than are needed. So the 5 excess votes are transferred to the second ranked people on the ballots of those who votes for A. How do they decide which five votes get looked at? Well, they look at the vote of everyone who voted for A, and count 0.8 of their vote for A, and 0.2. of their second-rank vote. This leaves the count after the second round of counting as:

    A 20 votes (elected)
    C 17.2 votes (because six of the 25 A voters had C as their second pick)
    B 11.6 votes (because 13 of the 25 A voters - including you - had B as their second pick )
    And D 11.2 votes (because six of the 25 A voters had D as their second pick)

    No-one else has made it over 20 votes, so the 11.2 votes for person D are re-distributed. The nine people who had D as their first pick have their whole vote transferred to their second preference. And the six people who had A first have their 0.2 votes for D transferred to their third preference.

    After this the count is:

    A with 22 votes (still elected - two of the nine D voters voted A)
    C with 19.8 votes (two D voters had C second, and three of the D then A voters had C third)
    B with 19.2 votes (five D voters had B second, and 1 of the D then A votes had B third)
    D (NOT elected)

    Still no-one else is elected:

    The two new "overvotes" for A are now distributed to C and B, this involves going back and recalculating the value for everyone so of the people who voted for A first ~ 0.741 of their votes go to A, and ~0.259 of their votes goes to their second preference (or their third preference if their second preference was D, who has now been eliminated. And so on until someone has more than 20 votes.

    I've actually simplified this a little, but the simple point is that if your first preference is elected, then they keep enough or your vote to keep them elected and a fraction of your vote goes to your lower preferences. The whole vote filters down the list if your preference is declared to have lost (by coming last at one point and having those votes re-distributed.

    p.s. sorry if this is complicated, but there's a reason why the calculations are done by computer :-)

    Wellington, New Zealand • Since Nov 2006 • 3009 posts Report Reply

  • uroskin,

    The Botany by-election will be under FPP rules, not MMP, so I don't see why that would affect opinions about MMP.
    The Maori Party relies completely on FPP to get into parliament and its representation should be reduced to fit its democratic (i.e. all votes should have the same weighting in seat allocation) share and get rid of the overhang.
    The problem with MMP is that it is not proportional enough and that increase in proportionality should be an option in the referendum.
    Labour and National should be able to form a coalition government one day - if the Germans can, why not us?

    Waiheke Island • Since Feb 2007 • 178 posts Report Reply

  • Graeme Edgeler,

    If you could explain how only part of my vote goes to candidates down my list, and also why I should vote for someone I believe should not be elected I’d appreciate it.

    I've done my best at the first in the comment above. I'll now try the second:

    Imagine that you are a left-wing Green Party supporter. You live in an electorate that elects 8 MPs. You list the three Green Candidates as 1, 2, and 3. You list the six Labour candidates as 4 through 9. You're now left with the National and Act candidates. It's pretty damn likely that there will be at least some National or Act candidates elected from your electorate. The question you have to ask is: would I prefer one of those MPs to be John Key or Roger Douglas. If you really don't care, and would be exactly as (un)happy with John Key as Roger Douglas, then don't vote for either of them. But if, despite your strong Green/Labour leanings you feel that you'd still prefer John Key to be your MP than Roger Douglas rank Key higher.

    Your vote probably isn't going to help either of them. And ranking both of them will not in any way impact on the election chances of any of the Green or Labour candidates you've ranked higher. But there's a chance, particularly if you're living in an electorate that doesn't like the Greens and Labour much, that it will come down to a race between them for a spot, and if you have an opinion, then ranking one higher than the other will help you avoid what you consider a greater disaster.

    STV/PV are sometimes referred to as instant run-off systems. Other voting systems have actual run-offs. Imagine a system in which if at an election for a single seat, no candidate got over 50% then the two highest-polling candidates had another election between just the two of them two weeks' later. This system is in use in other countries, including for example French Presidential elections.

    In the 2002 French Presidential election, right-wing Jacqes Chirac, and ultra-right-wing nationalist Jean-Marie Le Pen (from the French National Front Party) finished first and second. At the run-off, supporters of Lionel Jospin, the socialist candidate, came out and supported Jacques Chirac. Even though they didn't want Chirac to be President, they really really didn't want the National Front guy to be president.

    Under STV/PV, the ranking of lower candidates is a way to hold a run-off without having to go out and vote again. You're saying "if there was a run-off between person A and person B, or person A and person C, or person B and person C, then whoever I rank higher is the one I'd vote for."

    If your position would be "well my Green Party candidate didn't win, I don't mind which of John Key and Kyle Chapman is my MP", then don't rank them. But if you'd prefer John Key over Roger Douglas, or John Key over Kyle Chapman, then ranking them that way is how to show that.

    Wellington, New Zealand • Since Nov 2006 • 3009 posts Report Reply

  • Graeme Edgeler,

    Labour and National should be able to form a coalition government one day – if the Germans can, why not us?

    Because, in the medium-term, it won't work for either of them.

    If National forms a government, and you don't like what it's doing, then Labour can say "vote for us, we'll do better".

    If Labour forms a government, and you don't like what it's doing, then National can say "vote for us, we'll do better".

    If National forms a government with Labour, and you don't like what it's doing. Then you probably won't vote for either of them.

    Wellington, New Zealand • Since Nov 2006 • 3009 posts Report Reply

  • Rich of Observationz,

    I don’t quite see the argument for STV (I’m not sure whether Graeme is making it or presenting it, barrister fashion).

    If STV results in a similarly proportionate result to MMP, then it’s quite possible that the largest single party will fail to form the government because s different alignment of parties has gained more votes. That will leave the adherents of the largest party unhappy.

    If it produces a disproportionate result, then some parties will have been disadvantaged. Their adherents will be unhappy.

    Is the idea that STV provides a figleaf of proportionality, but doesn’t interfere with Labour and Nationals right to govern absolutely?

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 4463 posts Report Reply

  • Steve Withers,

    Elections are about choosing people to represent us in the legislature, not about "winners" and "losers". People obsessed with sporting outcomes should stay focused on rugby and horse racing. Such thinking is completely inappropriate in a representative democratic context.

    If a majority in parliament is composed of a majority of MPs elected by a majority of voters (the usual outcome under MMP, unlike First past the Post) then that is all well and good. I don't care if every singe one of them is a member of a different party, provided they were duly elected by people who want them there to represent them.

    The bottom line is they represent - collectively - the majority of voters when they come together to form a government.

    The idea that a party with 40% of the vote is somehow entitled to govern despite the obvious fact that 60% of the voters didn't vote for them is frankly bizarre...and reveals an inappropriate sense of entitlement they votes they got do not support.

    So what if they are the largest minority....and the majority don't want to govern with them.

    Big deal. Do better next time. Stop whining....and stop blaming the voting system that produces results consistent with the wished of voters as to who they want to represent them.

    If they are in parliament, they are all winners......as they got enough votes to be elected - singly in local seats or collectively in the national list vote. . .

    Auckland • Since Mar 2008 • 280 posts Report Reply

  • Graeme Edgeler,

    I don’t quite see the argument for STV (I’m not sure whether Graeme is making it or presenting it, barrister fashion) ... Is the idea that STV provides a figleaf of proportionality, but doesn’t interfere with Labour and Nationals right to govern absolutely?

    No.

    I wasn't making the argument for STV at all. Someone asked a question that related to a bit of my earlier blog post (from October) explaining how STV worked. They wanted to know why I said something I'd said in the post, and I was trying to explain it.

    STV is very likely to result in a system where the largest party, with the most votes, lacks a Parliamentary majority.

    Both STV and MMP are largely proportional systems (although they do this in a very different way, and minor parties are likely to get a little less than their fair share under STV).

    The argument for STV over MMP is that every MP has a personal mandate; there are no list MPs, and there is greater voter control over which MPs from a particular party are elected.

    One problem opponents of MMP point out is that in a safe seat, or with a safe list spot, some MPs - who may be highly unpopular - are virtually guaranteed re-election.

    Under MMP or FPP or PV, if you don't like, for example, Judith Tizard, you have to vote for someone from a different party, which you may be reluctant to do. Under STV, you can still vote for a Labour candidate, while ranking, for example, Judith Tizard below the other Labour candidates on offer. It's not an accurate way to look at it, but STV kind of gives some control over the list order to voters.

    Look out for some posts later in the year that will look into this further.

    Wellington, New Zealand • Since Nov 2006 • 3009 posts Report Reply

  • Steve Withers,

    STV can be very proportional (Ireland) or not remotely proportional, depending on how many are elected from each electorate / district. If you want a proportional outcome, you'd elect at least 7, using a preferential ballot, from each electorate. If you don't, you elect just one using a preferential ballot - like the Aussie's do in (most of) their Lower Houses. You can further perturb the outcomes in STV by gerrymandering the electorate boundaries and messing with the numbers to be elected. One could argue this has been done in Porirua to some extent....with some wards electing only 2 councilors while others elect more....and bearing in mind where the boundaries are.

    I prefer MMP for the simple reason it cannot be gerrymandered. Sure, you can swing the outcome in local seats, but the national party vote share is the national party vote share....end of story.

    Auckland • Since Mar 2008 • 280 posts Report Reply

  • Conan McKegg, in reply to Graeme Edgeler,

    Because, in the medium-term, it won't work for either of them.

    If National forms a government, and you don't like what it's doing, then Labour can say "vote for us, we'll do better".

    If Labour forms a government, and you don't like what it's doing, then National can say "vote for us, we'll do better".

    If National forms a government with Labour, and you don't like what it's doing. Then you probably won't vote for either of them.

    Um... but isn't that kind of the point then? Call me crazy, but shouldn't the government be doing what we - the people - want and if they don't we vote someone in who does.

    Your key error of thinking here is the somewhat archaic idea that government can only be National or Labour. But that isn't a particularly rational position to take. Anyone can make a government. In a system like MMP we are more likely to get one that best represents the population of the country rather than just a segment of it.

    If NZers want to see MMP provide better results, the first step is to stop thinking that it can only be Labour or National in government. That's a falsehood.

    The second is to forget that there is a "winner." Government shouldn't be a prize to win, it is a responsibility to take on. We are voting to grant someone the ability to govern in our stead based on our preferred ideals. But to make sure that it is for the benefit of the most NZers - we need a government that isn't beholden to a single interest group.

    To do this, we need coalition governments.

    Graeme, you're arguments seem to hinge on the false idea that a single party government is better. It isn't. It seems to me that a lot of the complaints about MMP stem from a mindset of "my team didn't win:" and not really have any focus on whether or not it is good for the country. I notice that there is a mentality that if the single party voted for doesn't get full control of government, then that is a loss.

    This is not about winning, and NZ needs to get out of the flawed thinking that it is.

    Wellington • Since Jan 2011 • 4 posts Report Reply

  • Graeme Edgeler,

    Um… but isn’t that kind of the point then? Call me crazy, but shouldn’t the government be doing what we – the people – want and if they don’t we vote someone in who does.

    That's the point for us. But it's bad for you if you're a national MP or a labour MP. Which is why they won't do it (short of a World War or that sort of thing).

    Graeme, you’re arguments seem to hinge on the false idea that a single party government is better. It isn’t. It seems to me that a lot of the complaints about MMP stem from a mindset of “my team didn’t win:” and not really have any focus on whether or not it is good for the country.

    Not at all. My arguments are based around the reasons I believe some people will feel disgruntled if there is a coalition of runners-up. I won't be disgruntled, but if others are, and that disquiet is broadly and deeply held, it could present problems for MMP and the political system more broadly.

    Us just telling people "don't you understand how MMP works?" isn't going to solve that problem, should it ever arise. Understanding the concerns will be important to acting in a manner likely to allay them, rather than deride them.

    Your key error of thinking here is the somewhat archaic idea that government can only be National or Labour. But that isn’t a particularly rational position to take.

    I don't accept I made that assumption, although I did use National and Labour as examples because I consider they'll be easily understood.

    That said, in the medium term - say the next five Parliaments - I think it is a perfectly rational position to adopt that assumption. Never rule anything out, but if either National or Labour do not form part of the Government in each of the next five Parliaments I will be very surprised.

    This is not about winning, and NZ needs to get out of the flawed thinking that it is.

    And if NZ doesn't change its mind to agree with you, what then? If a large portion of New Zealand "wrongly" believes elections are about winning, just because they are "wrong" doesn't make them irrelevant. I think lots of people disagree with your position, and that that lot of people are important and can have an influence over the political culture. This post is about exploring what that means and what can be done within that system to meet people's expectations and concerns.

    Wellington, New Zealand • Since Nov 2006 • 3009 posts Report Reply

  • wendyf,

    About election promises - can someone remind me of what Bill English was overheard to say about selling state assets. Or not. Something about swallowing dead fish.

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 79 posts Report Reply

  • Jacqui Dunn,

    Graeme - I'm perhaps mistaken about this, but in the referendum held to decide if we were throwing out FPP, we were given no option on preferences, were we?

    Deepest, darkest Avondale… • Since Jul 2010 • 585 posts Report Reply

  • Tim Hannah,

    1992 referendum asked whether we wanted to ditch FPP and what preferred alternative system was - MMP, STV, and a couple of other proportional systems of a sort.

    1993 referendum was between FPP and winner of that vote, which was MMP.

    Wellington • Since Jan 2007 • 224 posts Report Reply

  • Kyle Matthews,

    That may need to be taken with a fair pinch of salt. Didn’t the Greens feature prominently in a number of policy announcements that were seen as being a tad too “I know better than you” – a big reason why Labour lost crucial support from the middle ground in 2008?

    Well the prime one was the anti-smacking law change, which was a private members bill, not a party bill, and from memory wasn't a large part of any election campaign. But I think the fuck-up that ACT has been this term trumps anything the Greens did ever.

    I didn’t see that shifty little Tory son-of-a-bitch on any party list last election, so why is this so?

    No, go on. Tell us how you really feel.

    If STV results in a similarly proportionate result to MMP, then it’s quite possible that the largest single party will fail to form the government because s different alignment of parties has gained more votes. That will leave the adherents of the largest party unhappy.

    STV results in similar proportionality to MMP if the number of members elected in each electorate seat leads to the same effective threshold (1/n = MMP%). So for our current 5% threshold that would mean 20 MPs elected in each electorate.

    There would be some further proportionality advantages in STV in that it wouldn't have overhangs, and the Rodney Hide/Peter Dunne/Anderson etc would be less likely to happen.

    Since Nov 2006 • 6201 posts Report Reply

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