Legal Beagle by Graeme Edgeler

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

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  • Graeme Edgeler, in reply to Steven Peters,

    I cannot think of a single new party that has entered the house from outside, since MMP started in 1996, with the possible exception of the Greens.

    When the Greens were first elected as in 1999, they had current Alliance MPs in their number (the Greens were a constituent party of the Alliance).

    ACT had former MPs in their party in 1996, but none who'd served in the 1993-96 Parliament.

    Wellington, New Zealand • Since Nov 2006 • 3202 posts Report Reply

  • Steven Peters, in reply to Graeme Edgeler,

    Yes so the Greens split from the Alliance, which was their springboard into Parliament in 1996. Act on the other hand, was a genuinely new party to enter parliament under MMP. That would make ACT the only genuinely 'new' party to have entered parliament under MMP that was not resulting from a split from a party already within the MMP system.
    How does this make the Royal Commissions, and arguably Electoral Commissions, desire to see MMP create opportunities for new parties to enter parliament through elections? 4 out of 10, I would (generously) give them - fail.

    CHCH • Since Oct 2012 • 96 posts Report Reply

  • Kyle Matthews,

    How does this make the Royal Commissions, and arguably Electoral Commissions, desire to see MMP create opportunities for new parties to enter parliament through elections? 4 out of 10, I would (generously) give them – fail.

    I think it's worked quite well. Regardless of the fact that parties typically form around or because of someone splitting from another party, we have more parties represented in parliament as a result of MMP. All MPs end up in parliament via elections after all.

    Since Nov 2006 • 6243 posts Report Reply

  • Steven Peters, in reply to Kyle Matthews,

    Outside of the Maori electorates, we only have four parties of significance in the house, which will align around the 'old and tired' left (Labour/Greens), and Right (Nat/NZ First) block, to form governments in future. Back to FPP, lite
    Act is probably history anyway, and Ohariu (United Future 1 MP - very small party) is a close run race with Labour and arguably relies on a nod from National
    That leaves Maori and Mana (the latter a very minor party), and the Maori party (only 3 MP's) has problems of its own re succession, and continually falling voter support (which is not surprising, as what long term future can there be in a Maori Party/ Nat coalition - it may be they have achieved their main aim, getting the seabed and foreshore returned from the Labour Party)
    .
    From my understanding, MMP was a new voting system that was designed to respond to the increasing diversity in NZ. Somehow I don't think four parties was what they hope for when they designed it. I think there were even four parties (or more ) under FPP.
    The forces of reaction against a genuine multiparty democracy seem ubiquitous.

    CHCH • Since Oct 2012 • 96 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Steven Peters,

    From my understanding, MMP was a new voting system that was designed to respond to the increasing diversity in NZ. Somehow I don't think four parties was what they hope for when they designed it. I think there were even four parties (or more ) under FPP.
    The forces of reaction against a genuine multiparty democracy seem ubiquitous.

    It's delivered greater diversity. The moment MMP was brought in, the number of MPs who were not in Labour or National jumped from an average over the previous 55 years of around 0.57 (yes, that's less than one, on average) to around 30. That's an extremely significant improvement in alternative party support.

    The number of alternative parties is an interesting statistic, but you have to realize that politics is an endlessly evolving beast. The big party machines have learned how to work with MMP over the last 6 election, and their behavior has changed significantly, as have the demographics of their support. Generally, they've widened, become more populist. The number of parties in Parliament is not the only measure of diversity of representation.

    Those points made, I still think that the PVT cuts down diversity. But let's at least be realistic about how different MMP is from FPP in that respect. FPP routinely blocked very large groups from any representation, often over 10%, and in one case (1981, Social Credit), over 20% of the population voted for them and only got 2 seats.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10633 posts Report Reply

  • Steven Peters,

    You equate diversity with the number of MP's who do not belong to National or Labour. That is a necessary condition for diversity, not a sufficient one. It is the number of parties in parliament, representing the diversity within the the electorate (ethnic, class, age, interests, ideology etc), that is important for a better democracy. our parliamentary democracy is a party system, not an MP system.

    Minorities are not effectively represented by the big parties - their first loyalty is to the party, and its discipline. As the Royal Commission put it, somewhat obliquely 'Since the identification of the individual representatives with their groups is likely to have a strong bearing upon their effectiveness as representatives, democracy also recognizes the need for the direct and fair representation of diverse groups by members of those groups. However, the mere presence of a group in the legislature does not guarantee political effectiveness' (p 88).

    The facts illustrate we are heading towards a four party parliament, who as you suggest will be more 'populist'. That is not a genuinely democratic response to the widening diversity in our society, which MMP was designed to respond to effectively, not through populism. Populism has its reference point as middle NZ, which will marginalize minorities, and difference. After all, we have had a lot of practice.

    CHCH • Since Oct 2012 • 96 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Steven Peters,

    You equate diversity with the number of MP's who do not belong to National or Labour.

    No, I really don't. But I don't think that number is of no significance in the diversity of our political landscape. Diversity is hard to quantify, because you have to specify every kind of difference that is relevant, and how much difference, and how many with that difference.

    I'm becoming unsure whether your gripe is with the PVT or with MMP. It seems to me like you're saying that MMP was worthless without a much lower threshold, and we might just as well still have FPP.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10633 posts Report Reply

  • Steven Peters, in reply to BenWilson,

    MMP is the best system for NZ. I wish to stick by the Royal Commissions findings, and ostensibly electoral commission, the independent bodies (I have my doubts about the latter) called upon to advise parliament about what would be a fair and effective electoral system. .
    The problem is, with the high MMP threshold, a roadblock to small constituencies (say less than 10% of electors/electoral population - you would need to capture 40% of those voters to cross the threshold proposed, a very big ask). Sure they suggest lowering it to 4%, its still a roadblock - just lower.. It prevents minorities, and other new and developing political forces emerging.

    I think the number of MP's not in labour and National is dropping over time, as a proportion. Election participation rates are also dropping.
    My main gripe is with the electoral commission, because it proposes to 'drop' the PVT threshold to 4% (the original level very cautiously mooted in 1988) , yet it wants to abolish the one seat threshold it recommended. These two thresholds were seen by the RC as integral to each other, interdependent in their mind, to maintain proportionality given the relatively high 5% PVT they set. They even spoke of it as a single threshold in two parts. Therefore, it is not an evolutionary step they are proposing, but devolution, in that it will make parliament less proportional, which conflicts with a fundamental aim of MMP.
    FPP was undemocratic. So is the FPP lite we are heading for, under the guise of MMP.
    most new parties in the House seem to become extinct, at varying rates, under the present regime.
    The exceptions are NZ first and the Greens. If you are happy with the left right spectrum, and the continued cosy club of either a 'populist nat. or labour led government, then this is as good as MMP need get. But it could offer NZers more than that, IMHO.

    CHCH • Since Oct 2012 • 96 posts Report Reply

  • Steven Peters,

    "It’s delivered greater diversity. The moment MMP was brought in, the number of MPs who were not in Labour or National jumped from an average over the previous 55 years of around 0.57 (yes, that’s less than one, on average) to around 30. That’s an extremely significant improvement in alternative party support"

    I cannot agree with you entirely about this, Ben. I found a good table on Wiki 'Elections in New Zealand', from which I was able to calculate that during the MMP era, the seats going to Nat/Lab has gone up from an avg 82.6 in the first three elections, to 97.3 in the last three.
    It also shows electoral turnouts continuously dropping, to a low of 74.2% in 2011.

    CHCH • Since Oct 2012 • 96 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Steven Peters,

    Steven, from what you've said we want the same thing for reasons that are similar in some ways, different in others. At this point in time, nearly 20 years down the track, what the electoral commission recommended doesn't matter too much to me. We now have 20 years of actual data to see how this system has worked out in our actual case. We can make way more informed decisions about MMP now than we could back in the early 90s.

    I cannot agree with you entirely about this, Ben.

    Since I crunched my numbers from the same table you're using, you'll need to explain what you're disagreeing about. I said it jumped from 0.57 per electoral cycle to around 30. Here's the numbers, from that table:

    FPP Era:
    1+1+2+2+1+4 = 11 MPs elected in the 1938-1993 period. There were 19 elections, so the average elected per election was 11/19 = 0.57. I notice a minor math fail, there were 3 independents who also got in '38 and '43, so correct 0.57 to 0.63. That's still less than one per election, on average.

    MMP Era:
    39+32+41+23+21+28 = 184 elected in 6 elections, so 30.7 per election.

    Ratio improvement (going from FPP to MMP) of non-Nat/Lab in parliament = 30.7/0.63 = 48.7. Yes, that's nearly 49 times as many MPs elected per cycle.

    You are right that this number has been trending down across those 6 elections, as has participation. No disputes there. I'm not sure that it's the electoral system that is to blame for this, though. This has been a trend elsewhere in the developed world, too.

    It's very concerning. My opinion is that this is driven by economics more than any other factor, that the nation is in economic decline, with a growing divide between haves and have-nots. People start to feel that no political group represents them, and even if one did, it would not help them. But I have not made a study of this.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10633 posts Report Reply

  • Steven Peters,

    What I was endeavoring to show is that in the MMP era, the share of seats going to the major parties, Nat/ Labour, is increasing. The share therefore going to 'other parties is decreasing. In theory, MMP should have delivered the a result opposite to this.

    The share of the seats going to medium size NZ first and the greens is increasing, compared with other small parties. Therefore 'very small' parties decreasing.

    I am awaiting with interest to see what the final Proposals to parliament are, from the Electoral commission. I predict they will not lower the party threshold, although they should. Even if they do, it will not be by much, but 3% would be a big improvement.

    CHCH • Since Oct 2012 • 96 posts Report Reply

  • Kyle Matthews,

    The facts illustrate we are heading towards a four party parliament, who as you suggest will be more ‘populist’.

    That bit where you jumped from "we have eight parties now" and ended up at "we will have four parties" is total guesswork. Personally I think we'll end up at 6, but it could just as easily be any other number.

    Here's the results year by year since MMP came in:

    1996: 6
    1999: 7
    2002: 7
    2005: 8
    2008: 7
    2011: 8

    I'm not sure of a way to graph that to indicate that we're heading "towards 4".

    Since Nov 2006 • 6243 posts Report Reply

  • Kyle Matthews,

    What I was endeavoring to show is that in the MMP era, the share of seats going to the major parties, Nat/ Labour, is increasing. The share therefore going to ’other parties is decreasing. In theory, MMP should have delivered the a result opposite to this.

    Why should MMP over time, in theory, have resulted in something opposite to that trend? MMP increased diversity over FPP. You'd expect it to vary and trend election to election compared with itself.

    Since Nov 2006 • 6243 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Kyle Matthews,

    Why should MMP over time, in theory, have resulted in something opposite to that trend?

    Indeed, I can't think of a theoretical mechanism, and since the facts would contradict it, I don't see why I'd bother. Explaining why the opposite happened might be useful, but it's hard to prove. I said National and Labour broadened their support after they got the hang of MMP, which is some of the story (and I think it's a good thing about MMP that this happened). But declining turnout might also be part of it, I don't know. That could have bitten Labour even harder than it bit 3rd parties.

    Now we're in the interesting situation of National being way ahead of the pack, but the pack being bigger than National, and they are without a buffer on the right. So National's strategy may be a long term fail. The only direction they can grow is left, and if Labour is growing to the right, National could end up cornered in the battle for the center. Basically, all they can do at this point is hold, which is what they have been doing.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10633 posts Report Reply

  • Steven Peters, in reply to Kyle Matthews,

    Yes we do have eight parties now, but I cannot see where the quote you use of me saying it is. But anyway , what I did say was "Outside of the Maori electorates, we only have four parties of significance in the house". We may indeed end up with six parties in the house , as you suggest, but only four are of significant numbers (more than one or two).
    Of the Maori electorates, the Maori party is going backward in terms of seats, and Mana is definitely not a certainty to survive, as it was formed as a reaction to the Maori/Nat coalition, and when this goes, probably Mana will too.
    As far as Act, and United Future go, well, at least one will go.
    Four parties in the house increasing diversity?. There used to be three under FPP.
    A genuine increase in the diversity of representation in parliament of the nz electorate , one would have thought, would mean a decreasing dominance of the two main parties in parliament , but that doesn't appear to be happening, the number of seats they hold is increasing over time. Reading the Royal Commission concerning the goals of the MMP system, I don't think that was their intention, or desire. But maybe I am misreading it. Am I Graeme?.

    CHCH • Since Oct 2012 • 96 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Steven Peters,

    A genuine increase in the diversity of representation in parliament of the nz electorate , one would have thought, would mean a decreasing dominance of the two main parties in parliament

    Not necessarily. The dominant parties could increase internal diversity to broaden their reach. Which they did. This was a win for the system, and the country, which doesn't really need to have political conflict over the kind of difference that excluded people from power before.

    It's never been a stipulation in a democratic system that there can't be large power blocs, often outright majorities. If that's what the people want, then it's democratic that they get it.

    This is what happens in a real, evolving political system. I expect MMP will continue to evolve.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10633 posts Report Reply

  • Graeme Edgeler, in reply to Steven Peters,

    A genuine increase in the diversity of representation in parliament of the nz electorate , one would have thought, would mean a decreasing dominance of the two main parties in parliament , but that doesn’t appear to be happening, the number of seats they hold is increasing over time. Reading the Royal Commission concerning the goals of the MMP system, I don’t think that was their intention, or desire. But maybe I am misreading it. Am I Graeme?.

    I don't think I agree with the former. I think it was clearly the expectation of the Royal Commission that either National or Labour would form the linchpin of future governments.

    The Royal Commission wanted diversity (male/female, Maori representation, minority ethnic representation etc.), and they wanted to ensure substantial other voices were heard if they existed, but I don't think their intention or hope was that new voices would come into existence. Just that if they did, they would be heard.

    Wellington, New Zealand • Since Nov 2006 • 3202 posts Report Reply

  • Steven Peters, in reply to BenWilson,

    I think the high 5% threshold subverts the intent behind MMP, that is, to provide a more nuanced direct representation of new and small parties, and special interest groups in the polity. However, I think the ideal of the or potential of MMP is subverted by the politics. National does not have a buffer on the right? NZ First is their obvious buffer to retain power, and National is NZ Firsts obvious buffer into it.

    CHCH • Since Oct 2012 • 96 posts Report Reply

  • Steven Peters, in reply to BenWilson,

    "The dominant parties could increase internal diversity to broaden their reach. Which they did. This was a win for the system, and the country, which doesn’t really need to have political conflict over the kind of difference that excluded people from power before"

    I would probably be of the same view as you Ben, if I were a labour or nat supporter. But I'm not, like many people. A re-imagining and expanding of their wardrobe is not an increase in diversity. They are still wedded to their own traditions and ideologies, be they left or right. Direct representation is the marker of diversity, not window dressing. The high threshold is still excluding different (from what?) people from having their own, direct representation, unmediated by Labour or Nat. this is why the Royal commission was so keen on what they called 'effective' Maori representation, that is direct, and not trickling down from the Labour Party.
    I cannot agree with your notion of MMP 'evolving'. It makes it out to be a process of trying to get equality of vote, like all manner of equality, a 'natural' one, rather than one fought for, and hindered, by human agency.

    CHCH • Since Oct 2012 • 96 posts Report Reply

  • Kyle Matthews,

    We may indeed end up with six parties in the house , as you suggest, but only four are of significant numbers (more than one or two).

    But it's not necessarily numbers that make parties significant. Act, United Future, and the Maori Party are all tiny, but without them Key would have had to hold his nose and go talk to Winston Peters. Obviously more MPs tends to make parties more significant, but those three parties have just over a third of the number of MPs of the Green Party, yet they're clearly more significant in this electoral term, so it's not an absolute rule.

    We face the likelihood of losing Act next term, but possibly picking up a conservative party if National think there are votes there that they otherwise wouldn't pick up. And the break of the Maori electorates from Labour, first to NZ First and now to the Maori Party and Mana is one of the most significant things to happen under MMP.

    Since Nov 2006 • 6243 posts Report Reply

  • Steven Peters, in reply to Graeme Edgeler,

    Yes I agree Graeme that the RC didn't see Nat/Lab as losing their role as the lynchpins of future governments. However, I do believe they would have hoped that increasing direct representation of other sections of the community, would have lessened their dominance more than it has
    "I don’t think their intention or hope was that new voices would come into existence. Just that if they did, they would be heard".
    My reading of the report is a little different. eg.

    at 2.137 "MMP would provide for representation of various social, economic and ethnic groups while not compromising political integration. This is achieved in two ways. First, major parties are provided with real incentives to appeal to and include significant groups within their party tickets and structures. In particular, by providing an effective vote for Maori and thereby removing the need for separate Maori representation, it would enhance co operation at a political level between Maori and non Maori. Second, while MMP provides increased chances for minor party or special interest group representation in their own right,"

    Note 'in their own right'

    at 2.181 Finally, in terms of legitimacy MMP is, and will be seen to be, much fairer in giving representation to parties and other groups or interests. This is significant in terms of preserving confidence in our electoral process in a more diverse society...
    In our view, (a 5% threshold) this would be too great an obstacle to the development of new and emerging political forces".

    How right they were.

    CHCH • Since Oct 2012 • 96 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Steven Peters,

    I would probably be of the same view as you Ben, if I were a labour or nat supporter. But I'm not, like many people.

    Nor am I.

    They are still wedded to their own traditions and ideologies, be they left or right.

    Sure, but they're also more diverse in their demography, too. Turns out that a really diverse demography supports that narrow range of views. We've got the democracy that we deserved, sadly. It doesn't matter what happens with the political system, if the population is conservative, then you'll get conservative politics. Since the 1980s, NZ has had a neoliberals of various flavours. It's something that the people, in sufficient numbers, still think is a good idea. Indeed, for a substantial minority, it is a good idea. So long as enough people beyond that think their position might change, or are scared of the alternatives, then this status quo can continue.

    I cannot agree with your notion of MMP 'evolving'. It makes it out to be a process of trying to get equality of vote, like all manner of equality, a 'natural' one, rather than one fought for, and hindered, by human agency.

    I'm not sure what you're disagreeing with. The way that our politicians approach gaining power has changed, and is likely to continue to change. This is what I mean by evolving. Things could evolve to be worse, and then better again. I'll be surprised if National can possibly remain so popular, whilst making no improvements whatsoever in practically any measure of governance. It's quite mystifying, really - I think it's people huddling towards power in scary times, something that's been human nature forever. Also, the turning away from engagement by disaffected voters might reverse.

    Predicting the future is a very difficult thing. As the old saw goes, change is the only certain thing.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10633 posts Report Reply

  • Kumara Republic, in reply to BenWilson,

    It’s quite mystifying, really – I think it’s people huddling towards power in scary times, something that’s been human nature forever. Also, the turning away from engagement by disaffected voters might reverse.

    Who was it who said that "if you scare people enough, they'll believe anything"?

    The southernmost capital … • Since Nov 2006 • 5416 posts Report Reply

  • Steven Peters, in reply to Kyle Matthews,

    Yes but Act is probably gone, United future marginal, and the Maori party is getting smaller and smaller. A 'conservative Party' - you mean a new churchy party coming into the house? Yes that is possible, and desirable. I would rather they be in the raw, as it were, rather than hidden in NAT, NZ First and Labour.

    CHCH • Since Oct 2012 • 96 posts Report Reply

  • Steven Peters, in reply to BenWilson,

    When you say 'we' have got the democracy we deserve', who do you mean by 'we'? . I think the democracy 'we' have got is very much determined by the populist center, so its the democracy they want, and others who don't want, but get anyway. If the threshold was 2%, that is where all votes were closer to being equal, then our democracy would truly start to evolve, on steroids!.

    CHCH • Since Oct 2012 • 96 posts Report Reply

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