New Zealand: Keep but adjust MMP

The present arrangement leads to disproportionality.

The whole idea of the Mixed Member Proportional system was to create better linkage between the peoples' views and their parliamentary representation. A 5% Threshold was put in place to reduce the number of fringe parties and to facilitate post-election coalition building. But the present system allows tiny parties with miniscule voter support into parliament through the back door.

It's undemocratic, in my view, to let a party which wins a constituency seat be represented in parliament by the equivalent number of additional List MPs as it achieved in electoral support terms, while simultaneously a party garnering more votes is prevented from gaining entry to parliament unless it breaches the 5% barrier. 

Some people might argue that the 5% Threshold should be abolished altogether to enable all shades of opinion to be expressed. However, I believe that winning an electorate seat should not entitle a party to gain greater parliamentary leverage unless it also breaks through the 5% barrier.

That way, parties like ACT might be represented if it held onto its Epsom seat, but it wouldn't stride into parliament with several members. After all, why should it? It isn't popular, didn't capture the imagination of great swathes of the electorate and should remain a marginal player on the national political scene, not a critical element in a governing coalition.

It seems to me that MMP should encourage parties to gain constituency seats. Of course, it should also enable parties like the Greens, with broad if minority support, to express their views in parliament and influence public debate. 

As the Irish Times reiterated in a 2004 article on "eroding democracy in the name of liberalism", democracy is rule by the majority with the consent of the minority. And if any people know how important that precept is, it has to be the Irish.

Strong government is helpful as it delivers political stability. But it should carry with it majority support. Usually, it should be possible for minority viewpoints to be argued within the structures of big-tent parties. If the arguments are compelling they'll be adopted as policy. 

Conversely, weak government is created by excessive compromise, a problematic by-product of outsized coalitions. 

And dominant government which stampedes over minority concerns is self-evidently confrontational and divisive. 

So the model developed in Germany, for example, which encourages two-party coalitions is an effective middle road between these extremes. It encourages strong government with majority support, yet ensures right- or left-wing extremism never becomes government policy.

The three year election cycle in New Zealand doesn't provide governing coalitions with sufficient time to pursue mid-term goals. Only short-term aims can be targetted.  And so I think that four year intervals between elections is preferable.

The 26 November 2011 Referendum on the electoral system will enable the people to move towards adjusting MMP without scrapping it. It's a shame, though, that the young appear disengaged. As somebody said, this is a global phenomenon. 

Perhaps politics should be taught in schools. If that were to be the case, then any adjustments to the system will have been made by everyone, including those whose future will be most affected by them.

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