Legal Beagle by Graeme Edgeler

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Legal Beagle: Coalition of Losers

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  • sumware,

    "Labor was slightly ahead on the (useful, but constitutionally-meaningless) two-party preferred vote"

    Why is that constitutionally meaningless?

    Rob

    AKL • Since Nov 2006 • 6 posts Report Reply

  • Graeme Edgeler, in reply to sumware,

    The House is elected using preferential vote in 150 single-MP constituencies. The overall votes don't matter, although the media, and even the Australian Electoral Commission, like to tell everyone what that result is. Just as happened under our first-past-the-post system in 1978 and 1981, it doesn't matter in the House which party gets the most votes, or which party gets the most first preferences, or wins the two-party preferred count.

    Constitutionally, that is. There's certainly the possibility that there might be public disquiet about a result that went a different way.

    Wellington, New Zealand • Since Nov 2006 • 2994 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha,

    The five-headed hydra, as John Key once termed the prospect, would have been disconcerting to many.

    I believe someone at the time responded to that scary talking point by noting that National, Act, United and the Maori Party would constitute a four-headed 'hydra'. Any horror about that is largely a product of continued FPP thinking by the public, journalists and political insiders.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 16470 posts Report Reply

  • Wilbur Townsend,

    I think the crucial variable is whether the supporters of the major party in such a coalition are upset. I.e., if you had a Green/Maori/NZF/Labour Government, where Labour had less seats than National, then, sure, a lot of National voters would be upset - but, as those voters wouldn't represent a majority of voters, that's not really an issue. I don't think Green/Maori?NZF voters would have an issue either, as they're likely to have a different view of the mmp system. So I can only see there being an issue when Labour voters are upset with their party forming a government, which seems a little ridiculous, though plausible.

    Wellington, Aotearoa • Since Jan 2011 • 5 posts Report Reply

  • Conal Tuohy, in reply to sumware,

    The Aussie system has its own peculiarities. ;-)

    Comparing the "two-party preferred" counts of the two main parties misses out the crucial fact that there are third parties.

    In this election, the Greens and independents won seats (and ended up with the balance of power). You wouldn't know that by comparing the "two-party preferred" counts of the two main parties (NB the right-wing "Coalition" are always treated as a single party because they have an electoral non-competition arrangement).

    Melbourne • Since Oct 2008 • 7 posts Report Reply

  • sumware, in reply to Conal Tuohy,

    Thanks - that clarifies it.

    AKL • Since Nov 2006 • 6 posts Report Reply

  • Graeme Edgeler,

    noting that National, Act, United and the Maori Party would constitute a four-headed ‘hydra’.

    Except that it only needs two heads: National and ACT, or National and the Maori Party. It's not five parties needing to combine to form a majority, which is what was 'feared'.

    Wellington, New Zealand • Since Nov 2006 • 2994 posts Report Reply

  • Graeme Edgeler, in reply to Wilbur Townsend,

    if you had a Green/Maori/NZF/Labour Government, where Labour had less seats than National, then, sure, a lot of National voters would be upset – but, as those voters wouldn’t represent a majority of voters, that’s not really an issue. I don’t think Green/Maori?NZF voters would have an issue either, as they’re likely to have a different view of the mmp system. So I can only see there being an issue when Labour voters are upset with their party forming a government, which seems a little ridiculous, though plausible.

    I think you can definitely have an issue if the supporters of the 'losing' party don't consider the 'winning' party the legitimate winner. The breakdown in civil society can have an impact across the political arena: the more extreme aspects of the Tea Party (birthers, etc.) are an example of what can happen.

    I also think that whilst Labour supporters might be fine with it, this group isn't synonymous with Labour voters. I think there would be some people who voted Labour who would consider such a move as grasping political power, because they looked at the results and accept that they 'lost'.

    I do think that had this happened in 2008, Labour would have suffered in the polls (perhaps to the extent of leaving them out of office longer later) and that support for MMP would probably have dropped too.

    My post is at least somewhat aimed at investigating how this negative perception can be countered, by whichever party manages to pull off a coalition of runners-up first.

    Wellington, New Zealand • Since Nov 2006 • 2994 posts Report Reply

  • Rich of Observationz,

    not a single one of those voters will have voted for that government

    No, over 50% (ignoring thresholds) of those voters will have voted for one of the parties making up that government, by definition. That to me is democracy, not electing a government that 60% of voters voted against, for instance. If voters don't like their parties coalition choices (as I suspect many Maori party voters do) then the remedy is to stop voting for them.

    the supporters of the 'losing' party don't consider the 'winning' party the legitimate winner

    That's always the case under any system. The Tea Party exists under FPP,

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 4418 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to Graeme Edgeler,

    It's not five parties needing to combine to form a majority, which is what was 'feared'.

    Perhaps it wasn't some of Crosby/Textor's best work, but I see your point.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 16470 posts Report Reply

  • Raymond A Francis,

    I wonder how many extra votes National gained when John Key said he wouldn't do a deal with Winston Peters last election
    And Labour lost with Miss Clark's sneering reply along the lines "Wait till you need Winston's votes to form a government"

    45' South • Since Nov 2006 • 535 posts Report Reply

  • Pat Hackett,

    It is a long-standing running joke among my family friends that I am the only person that voted for MMP, because they have never met anyone who admitted it (nor admit to voting for it themselves). Therefore, it is all my fault. I copped it all over again at Christmas.

    I have always thought that, over time, the voters would be less likely to split their votes, and that smaller parties would fall by the wayside. MMP would "mature" once voters got sick of the tail wagging the dog. I think the demise of NZF sort of bears this out.

    However, Graeme's bumper sticker has provided me the best reason to return to FPP that I have heard of. Maybe my family and friends were right after all.

    Auckland • Since Oct 2010 • 95 posts Report Reply

  • Keir Leslie,

    Yeah, I don’t understand this. The major objection to a coalition of not-the-largest-party seems to be that it will be unpopular: but there’s a big difference between unpopular and unconstitutional.

    I also don’t understand the issue with pre-announcing coalition preferences. It seems to me that (a) if you are willing to say before the election that you will work with x and only x, you are barely a separate party any more*, and (b) if you don’t trust a party to support the right grouping, you can always not vote for them, and if you do and then they stuff up, not vote for them at the next election.

    Introducing constitutionality (or legitimacy) into it merely seems to complicate a matter which is primarily one of popularity.

    * And apart from anything else, you well and truly fuck over your negotiating team.

    Since Jul 2008 • 1319 posts Report Reply

  • Harry Musgrave,

    An historic example that I think supports Graeme's arguement was the first MMP election. At that time the so-called 'Toxic Trio' - Labour, Alliance and NZ First were pretty clearly aligned against National, Act and United during the election campaign. I recall a leader's debate where they six leaders were framed in exactly that way - with two opposing sets of three.

    National was clearly going to get the most seats but no-one thought that Labour shouldn't try and form a government. We didn't worry too much about people voting for NZ First because 'it didn't matter too much which of the three you voted for'.

    Except of course, it did - with NZ First getting many MPs and choosing - to a lot of people's consternation - to form a government with National.

    Since Jul 2009 • 20 posts Report Reply

  • Ben Austin,

    I don't see that it is a problem that vote splitting or small parties still occurs. Surely that is one of the design features

    London • Since Nov 2006 • 878 posts Report Reply

  • Graeme Edgeler,

    No, over 50% (ignoring thresholds) of those voters will have voted for one of the parties making up that government, by definition. That to me is democracy, not electing a government that 60% of voters voted against, for instance. If voters don’t like their parties coalition choices (as I suspect many Maori party voters do) then the remedy is to stop voting for them.

    I'm not sure that that's enough for some people. To a lot of people - including me - democracy also incorporates parties campaigning on platforms - people and policies - that voters can accept or reject.

    It is not a defence to the claim that the 1984-7 Labour Government didn't have a mandate to make the sweeping changes that it did to say: "oh well, you can not vote for them later". If a party campaigns for something, or against something, and that support or opposition is reflected in the result, basic democratic principles suggest that should be followed.

    Many people are rightly annoyed at the National Party because John Key promised they wouldn't raise GST. Some National voters and Labour supporters would be rightly annoyed if National sold TVNZ tomorrow. National voters because he promised he wouldn't and maybe that's why some of them voted National, and Labour supporters because maybe Labour could have done better at the last election (even won it) if the National Party had been upfront.

    I'm suggesting that it is more democratic, and more fitting of the public mandate model of democracy, that we apply the same principles to party coalitions as we do to policy platforms.

    In 2005, the Māori Party was Labour's "last cab off the rank". Although it wasn't repeated prior to the 2008 election, I never saw a public repudiation of this position. Yet a coalition of runners-up headed by a second-place Labour Party would likely have needed its support. If a party says - or implies - or lets voters believe - that it will not enter a coalition with a particular party, people might vote for that party on that assumption: "I can vote for the Labour Party because it will mean that the influence of the Māori Party over government will be small, because that concerns me."

    I don't see a fundamental distinction between breaching a policy pledge and breaching a coalition pledge. If a multi-party coalition wants public legitimacy and a mandate, then voters need to know what they're getting into before the election.

    Wellington, New Zealand • Since Nov 2006 • 2994 posts Report Reply

  • Keir Leslie,

    But the recourse we have to people breaking promises is simply not to vote for them. There is no question of rightness or wrongness about it; each voter is allowed to decide for themselves whether or not they trust the party asking for their vote.

    If you want to introduce some concept of mandate, you have to introduce some other concepts about how to enforce that first concept. Otherwise, it's toothless, and really I think meaningless.

    Since Jul 2008 • 1319 posts Report Reply

  • Kyle Matthews,

    I also don’t understand the issue with pre-announcing coalition preferences.

    I would imagine from a political party point-of-view, one of the risks of pre-announcing coalition partners is that you've effectively tagged 'vote for us' as also meaning "and these guys too".

    Take National/Act for example. I would imagine if they were to announce a pre-election coalition this time, Labour would come out arguing that a vote for national was a vote for Roger Douglas, Rodney Hide, undemocratic change in the super city etc etc etc.

    Possibly less dangerous with Labour/Greens, as the Greens have tended to be less offensive to the middle ground, which is where Labour are looking to take the votes).

    Since Nov 2006 • 6161 posts Report Reply

  • Pat Hackett, in reply to Kyle Matthews,

    Everyone knows Nat/Act are wedded as coalition certainties, as are Lab/Greens. It is the floaters in the centre - previously NZF and now the Maori Party - that can determine the outcome of the election. These centre parties will never declare their coalation preferences in advance. It is simply not in their interests to do so.

    Auckland • Since Oct 2010 • 95 posts Report Reply

  • Dismal Soyanz,

    A very thought-provoking post, Graeme.

    After a short reflection, my recollection of MMP coming in was because there was a huge dissatisfaction with the way that a government which had a minority of votes in aggregate could push through policies that were quite high risk (thinking of the Muldoon government in the late 70s and early 80s) or ultimately very unpopular (wage freeze anyone?). While MMP (and possibly other forms of proportional representation - not really thought about it) reduces this possibility, the flip side is that government policies are going to be a composite of policy platforms from various parties.

    Not only is there the risk of a government backtracking (which was quite possible under FPP) but adding to the uncertainty is that voters face a truckload of variations and permutations of potential policies depending on who forms the coalition.

    I guess I am asking in a fairly long-winded manner whether the voting public in general has a clear understanding of what might eventuate or if not, does it simply apply some rule of thumb (voting as if it were a FPP election), hoping that the the likely coalition negotiations and subsequent policy agreements approximates what they are comfortable with (scuse the preposition)?

    Winnie's quote (not that Winnie, the real one) that it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time sums it up really.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2010 • 187 posts Report Reply

  • Graeme Edgeler, in reply to Pat Hackett,

    However, Graeme’s bumper sticker has provided me the best reason to return to FPP that I have heard of. Maybe my family and friends were right after all.

    Unfortunately, while there's some truth in it, there's also a lot untruth.

    1. A lot New Zealanders rejected the two broad church "coalitions". In 1981, for example Social Credit got over 20% of the vote (but 2 of the 95 seats).

    2. The assumption might be that having broad coalitions is better, or more transparent. If your friends are worried about the influence of, for example, ACT over the current National Government, at least that influence is open, and the public and media act as a significant check on its overuse. Contrast this with the influence "ACT" had over the Fourth Labour Government.

    3. The better phrasing is probably: "we’ve always had coalitions, it’s just that they used to be called National and Labour, they announced their policies before the election, and if they won they got to implement them."

    But the response to this is the 1993 election - our last under first-past-the-post. National got a majority in the House after that election, so could continue to implement its policies. But they got that with 35.05% of the vote. After three years of National Government, their platform was rejected by almost 65% of the country. Staunch government critics Labour, New Zealand First and the Alliance carried more than 61% of the vote between them. A system in which 35% beats 60% faces real mandate problems.

    Wellington, New Zealand • Since Nov 2006 • 2994 posts Report Reply

  • Dismal Soyanz, in reply to Kyle Matthews,

    the Greens have tended to be less offensive to the middle ground

    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?

    Wellington • Since Nov 2010 • 187 posts Report Reply

  • 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.

    Auckland • Since Oct 2010 • 95 posts Report Reply

  • izogi,

    If a multi-party coalition wants public legitimacy and a mandate, then voters need to know what they're getting into before the election.

    Hypothetically, I wonder if this could be resolved with an extra round of acceptance voting. ie. People vote as present based on party campaigns, parties propose a coalition to govern and give clear and definite policies, and then voters have a second chance to accept the coalition (thereby providing a mandate) or reject it (in which case parties either try again or call another election).

    Of course, in practice it has potential to be very expensive and inconvenient, and would probably also result in lower voter turnouts over time. It could also create a lengthy window without a government, although this might be reduced if the election were held a few months before a new government was due to take over.

    Wellington • Since Jan 2007 • 313 posts Report Reply

  • Tom Semmens,

    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.

    I didn’t see that shifty little Tory son-of-a-bitch on any party list last election, so why is this so? Wouldn’t it be far cheaper to simply clip the wings of over mighty gallery journalists than contort our electoral laws to suit their ego?

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 1774 posts Report Reply

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