“MMP stinks but that’s not Winston Peters fault “

I didn’t vote for MMP and I have always preferred First Past the Post as the most democratic way to elect a government. It is by no means the perfect way as no such solution exists but it is a system that elects a strong government that actually has the will of the people behind it and the power to make any changes it might choose to make.

Unlike some people who rail against MMP because it didn’t deliver the result that they wanted I dislike it because it can deliver a coalition government where a small party can wield a disproportionate amount of power. Because we are stuck with MMP I gave my vote to Act in the hope that it would get to wield that disproportionate against National. I cannot in all fairness now complain that NZ First is using the system to its advantage against Labour.

By Professor James Allan

I spent 11 wonderful years living and working in New Zealand, from 1993 to 2004. During that whole time one of my pet peeves was the MMP voting system, one of the world’s most proportional systems and the one the Americans imposed on the Germans after World War II.

Almost half the MPs come into Parliament solely because of their place on a list drawn up by the party, and not because of any voter preferences. Plus, as with proportional voting systems generally, small parties gain significantly disproportionate power.

Worst of all, instead of coalition building happening before elections within the ranks of the main centre-right and centre-left parties (with the compromises then presented to the voters as in Canada, Australia and the US), you get the coalition building happening after elections without any voter input whatsoever.

[…] that brings me to Winston Peters and the recent general election.

The National Party won 44.5 per cent of the party vote, Labor 37, NZ First 7 and the Greens a little over 6 per cent. Put differently, the incumbent National Party won more votes than Labor plus the Greens or Labor plus NZ First.

We then had weeks and weeks of Winston Peters – whose party attracted less than one-sixth the votes of National – deciding who would form government and on what basis. And remember, the main complaint against majoritarian voting systems such as Australia’s or Canada’s or Britain’s is that political parties that win under half the popular vote get to call the shots. True. With MMP, by contrast, it is Mr Peters. Think of this as the 7 per cent solution to the 44 per cent problem.

[…] the justification Peters gave for his decision to install what is in effect a Labor-Greens-NZ First government is that the ‘voters had voted for change’.

Of course a moment’s thought reveals just how vacuous such a supposed justification really is – how many NZ First voters do you think wanted the Greens running the country or wanted a 37 year old Prime Minister?

Under MMP it is virtually impossible for any party to win over half the vote, governing parties included, so if Peter’s point were taken literally it would mean that every election could be characterised as a vote for change.

[…]  Nothing that transpired after voting night, not a single thing, was in any way at all contrary to the spirit of what you expect with proportional voting systems.

This MMP soap opera is what New Zealand wanted for itself, and Winston Peters merely gave it to the country good and hard. In that sense none of this is Winston’s fault.

You might think he was crazy to put in office a woman who said, and appears to believe, that ‘capitalism has failed New Zealanders’ […]

You might think it was something other than a concern for the national interest that saw Peters opt for the former President of the International Union of Socialist Youth […] the woman who describes capitalism as a ‘blatant failure’ (leaving no words to describe today’s Venezuela or the former Soviet Union).

[…] the fact Peters promised his voters that he would get rid of the Maori seats and would pare back job-enervating carbon emissions targets only to toss those promises in the post-election ‘too hard’ rubbish bin, well that’s precisely what MMP is all about. Like it or lump it.

There is, though, someone whom I believe does share some of the blame for this election fiasco. That someone is former Prime Minister John Key. Recall that it was Key who hardly campaigned at all during the last referendum on MMP, back at a time when he was immensely popular and could well have had a big influence on the result.

[…] he chose to put less political capital and effort into attempting to change MMP than he did into trying to shift flags. In that sense it was Mr. Key who helped give us the limelight loving riddle, wrapped in the National Party loathing mystery, inside the sell-out of his main pledges enigma that is Winston Peters.

I was right 24 years ago and I’m still right. MMP stinks. But that’s not Winston Peters fault.



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