Elec­tion sys­tem the real con­test

Kapi-Mana News - - OPINION -

Like Christ­mas, this year’s elec­tion still seems a re­as­sur­ingly long way off.

How­ever, the re­cently leaked news of an anti-MMP cam­paign aimed at in­flu­enc­ing this year’s elec­tion ref­er­en­dum was a star­tling re­minder of just how close we are to the sea­son of elec­tion­eer­ing.

Any­one, of course, is free to mount a cam­paign against (or sup­port­ive of) MMP. Yet the news that the prime movers in the an­tiMMP cam­paign are (re­port­edly) ac­tivists closely al­lied to the Na­tional and Act par­ties sug­gests this par­tic­u­lar ef­fort is not ex­actly a spon­ta­neous grass­roots cam­paign.

The ref­er­en­dum on the vot­ing sys­tem will be held in tan­dem with this year’s gen­eral elec­tion, and will ask vot­ers whether they want to re­tain MMP.

In ad­di­tion, vot­ers will be in­vited to choose their pre­ferred al­ter­na­tive from a list com­prised of First-Past-the-Post, Pref­er­en­tial Vote, Sin­gle Trans­fer­able Vote and the Sup­ple­men­tary Mem­ber sys­tems.

Even vot­ers who want to re­tain MMP will still need to re­mem­ber to choose be­tween the al­ter­na­tives – if only be­cause (should the anti-MMP vote pre­vail) vot­ers in 2014 will be mak­ing a bind­ing choice be­tween MMP and 2011’s top-ranked al­ter­na­tive.

Fi­nally, if MMP sur­vives all these ob­sta­cles it will be sub­jected to a re­view by the Elec­toral Com­mis­sion – which will seek pub­lic feed­back and re­port back to the Jus- tice Min­is­ter on what changes to MMP are deemed to be nec­es­sary and/or de­sir­able.

New Zealand has had five MMP elec­tions.

If the hall­mark of a fair sys­tem is whether it re­flects voter choices, then MMP has suc­ceeded on one im­por­tant mea­sure at least.

Af­ter the 2008 elec­tion, 93 per cent of New Zealand vot­ers saw their party vote or elec­torate vote rep­re­sented in Par­lia­ment – while the com­pa­ra­ble fig­ure for the last FPP elec­tion in 1993 was only 54 per cent.

For such rea­sons, the anti-MMP cam­paign men­tioned above has re­port­edly given up on FPP, and will fo­cus on pro­mot­ing the SM ( or sup­ple­men­tary mem­ber) sys­tem in­stead. That’s a clever choice, if change is to be sought at all.

Un­der an SM sys­tem, there are es­sen­tially two par­al­lel elec­tions – one held in elec­torates un­der FPP, and a list vote, where seats are as­signed pro­por­tion­ately, ac­cord­ing to votes.

Un­like MMP, SM car­ries out no over­all pro­por­tional ad­just­ment. It would thus en­able the anti-MMP cam­paign­ers to har­ness the hos­til­ity to MMP, and to the role of the party list.

This year, Labour’s only real hope of gain­ing power would re­quire it to weld to­gether an op­por­tunis­tic coali­tion of mi­nor par­ties (per­haps in­clud­ing Win­ston Peters) that is hardly likely to de­pict MMP in an at­trac­tive light.

For its part, the anti-MMP cause will be try­ing to down­play the over­seas ev­i­dence that the SM sys­tem cements in the power of the party bosses, who con­trol the party list even more so than un­der MMP.

It is also hard to see how vot­ers in Novem­ber will be able to vote blind for the SM sys­tem with­out know­ing just what the ra­tio here be­tween elec­torate seats and party list seats un­der SM is pro­posed to be.

Still, in a year when the polls sug­gest the elec­tion it­self is some­thing of a fore­gone con­clu­sion, the vot­ing sys­tem battle is shap­ing up as a far closer and un­pre­dictable con­test.

Gor­don Camp­bell is an ex­pe­ri­enced po­lit­i­cal jour­nal­ist and colum­nist who has writ­ten for The Lis­tener and Scoop.

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