Legal Beagle by Graeme Edgeler

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Legal Beagle: MMP Review #1: The Party Vote Threshold

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  • Steven Peters,

    "I guess I’d call an ethnic minority party a single issue one, to the extent that they make their only point of difference that they are the representatives of that minority, and don’t make it clear what their intended policy is"
    Their policy would be derived from the same source as the dominant parties, their particular world view, and interests - which they are entitled to hold.
    "Harawira broke off when it became clear to him that it wasn’t really about representing Maori as the poorest people in this country, and more about furthering the interests of tribal power".
    Yes how
    Yes the Maori party will have divisions within it, particularly given the difficulties they face balancing working for Maori, and at the same time with a coalition arrangement with National, the diametric opposite of historical Maori representation. Ideally there should be room for these divisions to flourish, and be represented somehow either in Parliament, in a broader church of 'Maori parties'.

    "ironically, put in place as a reaction to Brash’s alarmist reaction to the absence of such an Act"
    I would say put in place cynically, as a naked grab to maintain power. It was also an act of betrayal to Maori who (foolishly) continued to put their trust in Labour patronage. Its quite humorous really. Very loosely, Brash stuffed up Labor's chance of govt, lost national an election, and stuffed the ACT part. He is the Monsieur Hulot of NZ politics, long may he entertain us. .

    Yes the need for coalition is a great leveler. The more parties in parliament to add to the coalition mix, the richer the recipe, the larger, more equitably shared and more nutritious the pie.

    CHCH • Since Oct 2012 • 96 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Steven Peters,

    Yes the need for coalition is a great leveler. The more parties in parliament to add to the coalition mix, the richer the recipe, the larger, more equitably shared and more nutritious the pie.

    Not sure, really, how it would pan out. My support for it is more from the "right to representation" angle than it is from the "it will certainly work well for minorities" angle. How it evolves is out of the control of system designers, since people and parties change their positions over time.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 8675 posts Report Reply

  • Steven Peters,

    Ah we are in agreement - The right to representation. What comes after, in my view, is in the lap of the gods, but as long as it is not stopped from happening (within reason) .
    I liken having a high threshold, preventing smaller groups from being represented, to the model of 'power and control' used in domestic violence. It is the more powerful figure controlling the options and natural wants and needs of the less powerful. As they say, all oppression has to be maintained by some sort of violence, overt or covert.

    CHCH • Since Oct 2012 • 96 posts Report Reply

  • Steven Peters, in reply to BenWilson,

    the importance of possible changes to MMP. The more I read from back-blogs and news paper pieces (notably John Armstrong and Bryce Edwards), the more Machiavellian the whole thing becomes.
    in your comment,"My support for it is more from the “right to representation” - do you mean "to 'equal' representation"?

    CHCH • Since Oct 2012 • 96 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Steven Peters,

    Yes. It's a target, that everyone gets equal representation. I don't think we get that close, but it's something to aim for and you judge the system in comparison to others, rather than an absolutely perfect end point.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 8675 posts Report Reply

  • Brent Jackson,

    The Electoral Commission have released their final report :

    http://img.scoop.co.nz/media/pdfs/1211/Final_Report_2012_Review_of_MMP.pdf

    They're sticking with the proposed 4% threshold, even though the simulation data showed 3% to be the better option.

    They believe that going to 3% is too big a jump, and that there should be a review after 9 years (3 elections), to see if it should be adjusted further.

    Because they are abolishing the electoral seat threshold, it is likely that we will get a less proportional parliament than under the current system. What a wasted opportunity.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 427 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Brent Jackson,

    Because they are abolishing the electoral seat threshold, it is likely that we will get a less proportional parliament than under the current system. What a wasted opportunity.

    Not sure. It could be about the same. We could lose 5 coat tailers, but gain 5 on a party list (who would have got none). And 5 would be at the upper end of the number that coat-tailing has produced. My feeling is that it's a small improvement in proportionality, and progress overall toward making a less major-party dominated system. Epsom would lose the power it had, and wherever the hell Dunne is.

    Sadly, it probably kills Mana and installs Colin Craig.

    This part was extremely interesting:

    The Commission engaged UMR to conduct two surveys in the weeks following the release of the Proposals Paper to gauge support for a 4% party vote threshold and the abolition of the one electorate seat threshold. In the first survey, conducted soon after the release of the Proposals Paper, 46% of those surveyed supported lowering the party vote threshold to 4%, while 42% opposed it, and 12% were unsure. In a survey conducted two weeks later, 40% surveyed supported a 4% threshold, 41% did not, and 19% were unsure. Most of those opposed to a 4% party vote threshold preferred that it remain at 5% or higher. Those supporting a threshold below 4% were within the margin of error.

    That is some interesting data all right. They got a massive proportion of the submissions requesting lower than 4%. But the number of people in the general population supporting it is "within the margin of error".

    Also:

    While Wilson and Fowlie prefer 3%, this would be a massive 40% reduction from the current threshold, and we are mindful that experts in electoral systems recommend ‘incremental improvements’ rather than major change

    Seems very sound, on the basis of the previous finding.

    In other words, if the opportunity was wasted, it was wasted by the general will of the population of NZ. If you trust UMR. I don't have any reason not to.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 8675 posts Report Reply

  • Rich of Observationz,

    probably kills Mana

    That's down to the people of Te Tai Tokerau, really. I'm not sure they'll be any keener next time on either the MaoriNat candidate or whichever aging joker Labour manage to dredge up (I guess it's possible, and would be nice, if Labour find a bright, progressive young Maori with links to the far north. I kinda doubt it though).

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 4484 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Rich of Observationz,

    I meant it's the end of them getting coat-tailing benefits, which is the whole point of them being the Mana Party, rather than the Hone Harawira Party. They'd have to get over 4% support in the party vote, a very big hill to climb. Mind you, they get at least one more throw on the current system, and if they build up, they could look credible once more.

    I kinda doubt it though

    Very hard to pick at this point. Is reconciliation between Harawira and the Maori Party completely impossible? Maybe they have learned the hard way that he had a good point? I've never been able to pick what way Maori politicians will move under MMP, they've been very canny players all along.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 8675 posts Report Reply

  • Steven Peters, in reply to Brent Jackson,

    I agree with your frustration regarding the Electoral Commission. However,t MMP was a 'mistake' on the part of politicians, and who have tried to practice infanticide at any opportunity. I do not think the three person Electoral Commission, one former judge, one bureaucrat, and one professional company director (who happens to be have Maori ancestry), will do much different, as they themselves are exemplars of the existing establishment, and that boat rocked should be rocked without 'great caution', I mean, it might sink, and how would all of you in the river manage without us in our boat watching over you, benignly?
    The maturation of a fairer electoral system in NZ owes much to a few politicians, Sir G Palmer particularly, and John Terris, and notably Phil Saxby and others in the Electoral reform coalition, and of course, to the NZ people.

    While there is a real sense of loss at a wasted opportunity, I think it will be up to the people again to to assert their belief in a fairer electoral system, notably a lower PV threshold. I think people ho support this idea need to start thinking about how we can organize ourselves to work making that an achievable goal.

    CHCH • Since Oct 2012 • 96 posts Report Reply

  • Steven Peters, in reply to BenWilson,

    Ben, you argue that the end justifies the means in that a system that creates inequality between voters, which the OST does, is justifiable because it (might) bring about a small increase in proportionality, and reduce the dominance of the two old oligarchs.
    Without the one seat threshold each vote is equal in all electorates.
    However, the 4 or 5% threshold (and you seem to assume that there will be a drop to 4%, there is no guarantee of that) means that all votes for parties who get under that are 'wasted'. Without the one seat threshold, all parties who did not reach the threshold share an 'equality of non-representation'.

    With it, there is an inequality of representation created. Haven't we enough inequality built in to the system of voting, with the PVT, without another one, muddying the waters, and the impetus for change among all those equally disenfranchised by the PVT?

    AS far as their 'survey' goes. Lies, damn lies, and statistics.

    CHCH • Since Oct 2012 • 96 posts Report Reply

  • Steven Peters, in reply to Graeme Edgeler,

    Hi Graeme.
    Winston Peters is arguing that the 5% threshold should remain as 'this what was decided in the referendum in 1993, and nothing has happened which changes that decision'.
    Do you know what he is referring to exactly, and whether it has any relevance in the current debate?

    CHCH • Since Oct 2012 • 96 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Steven Peters,

    Ben, you argue that the end justifies the means in that a system that creates inequality between voters, which the OST does, is justifiable because it (might) bring about a small increase in proportionality, and reduce the dominance of the two old oligarchs.

    I'm not justifying it, I'm weighing up the pros and cons between the current reality and the system just proposed by the EC. It's not a simple task, because it's unknown what the effect of a lower PVT is. Incidentally, they concur that it's a 20% drop, and contextualize that with:

    1.15 Lowering the party vote threshold from 5% to 4% would be a 20% reduction in the number of party votes a political party needs to be eligible for an allocation of list seats. Based on the last three elections,9 to cross a 4% threshold, political parties would need to win around 92,000 party votes. At 5% they would need to win around 115,000. This represents a significant reduction in the threshold

    Which means small parties would need to get 23,000 less votes to cross the threshold. That's worth something. Not sure exactly what it's worth.

    The thing that seems quite important to me in the report is the extent to which they took into account the general will of the population, and the thoughts in the submissions. I don't think they were mere lackeys of the establishment as you're sort of suggesting. There is surprisingly little support for a lower threshold than 4%. I think the average person is simply wrong on this, but I do believe in a democracy that their opinions are important.

    Which is why I quoted the piece above that says "we are mindful that experts in electoral systems recommend ‘incremental improvements’ rather than major change". Ultimately, whilst the total move in the direction of proportionality might be quite minor, the fairness that it brings back, and the removal of the ability of the major parties to pick which minor parties get representation, is a stepwise change that, if successfully sold to the public, does constitute a move forward. It also simplifies the future choice, removing the OST from muddying the waters the way it has so far.

    If it were followed, and the population ratifies it (is this necessary? Graeme?) then we would get at least another 9 years to see what the influence is on the political system of the removal of that power the major parties has. It might very well bring back considerably more confidence in small parties, as their ability to whore for the majors to get the crumbs would be gone.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 8675 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Steven Peters,

    I bet he's saying that because he can see that the Conservative party could bite big chunks out of his support.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 8675 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    I feel obliged to point out that there is still a way for the major parties to game the system, so massive that the massiveness is itself probably the reason it has never happened. There would just be too much outrage.

    This method would be if they actually split themselves into 2 parties which are 100% aligned, different only in name and position on the electoral ballot. Call them Labour and Labor, for instance. One would contest the electorates, and the other would contest the party vote. This could generate a huge overhang, a major party taking it's share of electorate seats, but getting nothing in party vote, and a "minor" party, getting a major party share of party vote. Effectively it would add the number of electorates to the current total number of seats held by the party.

    I haven't read the full EC report yet to see if they mention this. Too busy today, I have an exam.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 8675 posts Report Reply

  • Kyle Matthews,

    I haven’t read the full EC report yet to see if they mention this. Too busy today, I have an exam.

    I think it's sufficiently impractical that not worth considering. Most of the electorate would punish being manipulated in such a way, it would kill you pretty quickly.

    Better to align with a party that has an existing electorate base but not a party vote base. The Maori Party has weight here.

    Since Nov 2006 • 6221 posts Report Reply

  • Rich of Observationz, in reply to BenWilson,

    That's kind of why, in the absence of much chance of them getting any list MPs, National continues to give an open goal to Banks and Dunne. It gives them two extra fairly reliable votes that don't come off the party list.

    I think if that was expanded, people would start to notice and there'd be pressure to drop the dual vote (so that party votes went to the party of your electorate choice).

    It's possible that if Labour's decline isn't arrested, this will work in the "left"'s favour as Labour holds electorates but loses its party votes to the Greens.

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 4484 posts Report Reply

  • Graeme Edgeler, in reply to Steven Peters,

    Winston Peters is arguing that the 5% threshold should remain as ‘this what was decided in the referendum in 1993, and nothing has happened which changes that decision’.
    Do you know what he is referring to exactly, and whether it has any relevance in the current debate?

    New Zealand First policy on the electoral system is - and always have been - that changes should be made only by referendum.

    Winston considers that the 5% threshold received voter approval in the 1993 referendum which adopted MMP, and that in the absence of another referendum approving a change to it, that it should stay that way.

    Wellington, New Zealand • Since Nov 2006 • 3011 posts Report Reply

  • Islander, in reply to Rich of Observationz,

    aging joker Labour manage to dredge up (I guess it’s possible, and would be nice, if Labour find a bright, progressive young Maori with links to the far north. I kinda doubt it though).

    Labour, in Te Tai Toka, found Rino- the Tirikatene name still resonates with the southern Maori electorate. Dunno how things stand north...

    Big O, Mahitahi, Te Wahi … • Since Feb 2007 • 5643 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Rich of Observationz,

    It's possible that if Labour's decline isn't arrested, this will work in the "left"'s favour as Labour holds electorates but loses its party votes to the Greens.

    Yup, but they'd have to lose a lot more party vote to start generating an overhang. On 22 electorate seats, they'd need to get less than 22/120 = 18.3% before it would work. If all that party vote went to the Greens, they'd be the bigger party.

    Yes, gifting electorates works too. It's not exactly the same strategy I was talking about, but it can generate overhangs, if those parties get no party vote "stolen" from their partner party.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 8675 posts Report Reply

  • Keir Leslie,

    Cf Italy obvs. Also, for reals, how is that different from the Act Party at the moment?

    Since Jul 2008 • 1389 posts Report Reply

  • Steven Peters,

    I found reading the final EC report infuriating, and a little nauseating. Its not in keeping with the Royal Commission, whom they look to for guidance, because that was a radical document.What this document offers to those who need it most, the non and under represented in our society, is a sugar pill.

    Winston will support National in keeping the 5% threshold, although National's stated position is not final yet. But who else will support no change?.
    There will be wheeling and dealing around the OST, and the PVT, between parties allied with National.
    In some ways, I think it would not be a bad thing that the 5% stays, and the OST goes (the latter a good thing which ever way you look at it)). It will make the inequities in a high PVT more obvious in coming years, as our parliament becomes an elective dictatorship of four main parties, instead of two.

    Opting for a 4% threshold will make little difference to this happening, IMHO.

    CHCH • Since Oct 2012 • 96 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Brent Jackson,

    They're sticking with the proposed 4% threshold, even though the simulation data showed 3% to be the better option.

    I'm honestly surprised that a simulation would be necessary to show that lower thresholds generate higher proportionality. It's so damned obvious that increasing thresholds increases disproportionality*. I guess it's nice to have a number that measures how much exactly between %3 and %4 but is it really a meaningful number? How do you trade that value off against other values in the system? Perhaps if they'd also modeled "stability", that old chestnut that prevents low thresholds, then we'd at least see how much we value proportionality compared to stability. All we can do with a disproportionality mean is to compare it to other countries.

    I expect the reason this isn't done is because stability is very hard to define. Indeed even considering it is part of hegemonic discourse - of course a lot of minorities would like a certain kind of instability. They would like their problems addressed, which means change, which is less stable. The very introduction of instability that came from MMP was a big part of the point of it, that it broke up existing power structures.

    *That said, they claimed that the simulations of thresholds less than 2% were less proportionate. But they didn't give the data. I wish they had, that would be very interesting. It could be such a tiny difference as to be insignificant, with some logical twist in the St Laguё kicking in on the data set. I'm struggling to see how it's possible that it's less proportional to include all the parties that would be cut off by a 2% threshold. Presumably, they're either ignored, or there's some kind of granularity issue that happens with the number of party list seats available. Or the simplistic model they had for preference switching just didn't have data for the really small parties in sufficient volume. Or it could just be too simplistic a model. They said "as expected" so perhaps there is some well known theorem that shows proportionality has a maximum average point for some threshold that is greater than zero (which is where I'd expect the maximum average to be).

    Interesting way of modeling, too.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 8675 posts Report Reply

  • Steven Peters, in reply to BenWilson,

    stability is very hard to define. it is part of hegemonic discourse – of course a lot of minorities would like a certain kind of instability. They would like their problems addressed, which means change, which is less stable. The very introduction of instability that came from MMP was a big part of the point of it, that it broke up existing power structures.

    Very good point Ben, well put. When they talk about 'instability' and 'effectiveness' - from whose view point are they making that judgement? The 25% of NZ children who live in poverty, for example ? (don't think so) How have they measured it?. Where is the data? It is just rhetoric (or ideology), to keep the existing power and economic structures stable, and effective, for those who benefit from them.
    I am disappointed that the Greens are happy with 4%. I thought they were more committed to democratic principles. They are not.

    CHCH • Since Oct 2012 • 96 posts Report Reply

  • Steven Peters, in reply to Graeme Edgeler,

    Hi Graeme
    This thread seems to have expired. Pity. In 1998 Jonathan Boston wrote 'Governing Under PR, Lessons from Europe'. On Page XIV of his executive summary he wrote (abridged);
    "A Possible MMP stability package.
    In the interests of ensuring a more orderly process of government formation, reducing political uncertainty and enhancing government durability, the following reform package warrants serious reconsideration:
    Requiring the Parliament to meet within thirty days of a general election
    Giving the Speaker of the House the responsibility of managing the process of govt. formation, including appointing a formateur (or an informateur) if the circumstances dictate) and nominating a candidate for PM; Introducing an investiture vote under which the Speakers nomination for PM would be endorsed by the House unless rejected by an absolute majority of all MP’s; Introducing a positive resignation rule under which an absolute majority of all MP's would need to vote against a govt. on a motion of censure in order to force the governments resignation; requiring governments to resign (and the process of govt formation to be activated) whenever there is a change in party composition, Introducing a fixed or semi fixed parliamentary term".

    From your knowledge, has any attempt(s) been by government/parliament to consider any of Bostons recommendations, or even more generally look at constitutional issues " In the interests of ensuring a more orderly process of government formation, reducing political uncertainty and enhancing government durability", under MMP

    CHCH • Since Oct 2012 • 96 posts Report Reply

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