Will the government drop the MMP threshold?

Small parties that join forces with large parties often fare badly under MMP. The paradox is that under MMP, it is unlikely that any major party can govern alone, so major parties need minor parties to govern. The minor parties need major parties for political survival.

At present, there are really only two minor parties in parliament, and they both support the Labour government. The Greens have a large following, but their support is ideological. The realities of government sometimes find the Greens at loggerheads with their support base. Also these days, there are many Green MPs who can only be described as loose cannons: Golriz Ghahraman, Marama Davidson, Eugenie Sage and Jan Logie. It is obvious that the party has fallen a long way from the days of respected politicians such as Rod Donald and Jeanette Fitzsimons.

Then there is NZ First, which has always been essentially a one man show. Winston has commanded steady support over the years, because he has a reputation for ‘keeping the government honest’. However, Winston may have pushed his luck too far this time. Having campaigned on reducing immigration, Winston signed the UN Migration Compact, which has resulted in a very bad reaction from many of his supporters.

It is quite possible that neither the Greens nor NZ First will make the 5% threshold in 2020.

On current polling, Labour needs both partners to survive. There seems to be a distinct likelihood that one of its support parties will not be in parliament next time around.

Faced with this possibility, it is very likely that this government will move to lower the MMP threshold in time for the next election.

Everyone expects a referendum on the subject. The government is not required to hold a referendum. They can just do it. The referendum on legalising cannabis is designed to bring a few stoners to the voting booth. That may bolster the left’s share of the vote, but it may not be enough by itself.

If the threshold is dropped to 4%, there is a stronger chance that both support parties would get back into government, and the current coalition would have three more years.

It is also expected by some that the ‘coat tailing provisions’ – where a small party wins an electorate seat and can bring in more MPs – will be abolished. Nobody is benefiting from this any more. ACT used to benefit, but nowadays, their share of the vote only entitles them to 1 MP, so long as he wins Epsom.

I think we all know that this government is self serving enough to try to save their own necks. That is why there won’t be a referendum. The voters might not support it. Also, a referendum would mean that the result would not apply until 2023, which might be too late for this government.

Personally, I am opposed to dropping the MMP threshold. 5% of the vote means a party has about 100,000 voters, which indicates a good level of support. Less than that might result in fringe groups making it into parliament, which does nothing for stable government. In 2014, Colin Craig’s Conservative party would have made it into parliament if the threshold had been 4%. We were saved by the 5% threshold that time.

The only good thing if the threshold is dropped, is that it might give the New Conservatives seats in parliament. Otherwise, dropping the threshold won’t be a good thing for our electoral system at all. We have enough of the tail wagging the dog as it is, as the current government proves. Imagine if a party with only 4% of the vote got to choose the government next time around. That might be how MMP works, but it is not democracy as we know it.


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