Graeme Edgeler is a frequent commenter on all sorts of election issues, and I have yet to find him to be wrong on anything. He has been kind enough to clarify some points following a post about National needing to look after Nick Smith or he could leave, force a by election, and a hung parliament.
As with all guests posts this is unedited. Those invited to write guest posts are assured that posts will be published in full, whether I agree with them or not. I might comment in a subsequent post, but I will leave this unedited.
When New Zealand adopted the mixed member proportional (MMP) voting¬†system, Parliament had a bunch of choices to make about the detail.
One of the choices it made was that proportionality only mattered at¬†the general election. This means that if an electorate MP from one¬†party resigns (or dies, or otherwise leaves Parliament), and an MP¬†from another party wins the resulting by-election, the overall¬†proportionality of the House changes. Usually this won’t make much¬†difference – the Government’s majority might be reduced from nine¬†votes to eight – but if the House is close to evenly divided, it might¬†make a difference.
This has happened under MMP already. When Labour electorate MP Tariana¬†Turia resigned, Maori Party candidate Tariana Turia won the resulting
by-election, and the number of Labour MPs fell by one, and the number¬†of Maori Party MPs grew by one. And the same principle applies if the¬†replacement is a different person.
You might think that in the event a candidate from a different party¬†from that which previously held the seat won a by-election, the party¬†winning the by-election should lose a list MP, and the party which had¬†the MP resign from it should gain a list MP, so that overall¬†proportionality is maintained with the party vote at the preceding¬†general election. There are good reasons why you might do this,¬†especially if the proportionality of the party vote is considered¬†particularly important.
But the simple point is that we don’t. If you look at Section 55 of the Electoral Act, you will see all the ways in¬†which a seat can become vacant in Parliament. The seat of a list MP¬†cannot become vacant because a candidate for their party won a¬†by-election in a seat they didn’t previously hold. Look through the¬†rest of act, and you simply will not find anything that says we ensure¬†proportionality remains after a by-election is held.
There are also good reasons why we don’t do this. Sometimes it simply¬†can’t work, for example, when a party not previously in Parliament¬†wins the by-election (which the Maori Party and the Mana Party both¬†achieved). And redoing the list seat allocation after a by-election¬†could also completely muck around Parliament.
What would we have done¬†if Winston Peters had won one of the by-elections held during the term¬†of the last Parliament? The current rule we have is that he would
simply have become an MP, replacing the person who previously held the¬†seat, but if we re-did the list allocation, then National would have¬†lost three MPs, and the Greens and Labour one each, so that New¬†Zealand First could have gotten five MPs. This could easily be very¬†destabilising to Parliament. Of course, in a very close Parliament,¬†like the one we currently have (where, for example, the government’s¬†partial sale of various assets is being passed 61 votes to 60), not¬†doing it can have the same effect.
There are any number of different ways we could treat by-elections.¬†The way we do it is probably the easiest, but if people want to¬†suggest alternatives, then they can propose them to the Electoral Commission’s¬†review of MMP. It’s going to look at some of the other rules¬†around by-elections, such as whether list MPs should be able to run in¬†them, and there’s no reason for them not to look at this as well.