Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Steve Baron: Election Rhetoric Over

It was an interesting election night to say the least. The Labour vote collapsed, which will
be heart-breaking for many Labour supporters, even though Phil Goff put in a better than
expected campaign performance. There was an exceptional result for the Greens with a minor party getting over 10% of the party vote for the first time ever under MMP. The Lazarus like return of Winston Peters probably surprised many, even though he will be as effective as the castrated eunuch prancing around the opposition harem. The emergence of a new political party, the Conservatives, who will be encouraged by a 2.76% party vote (no easy feat for a mostly unheard of party and leader) and then there was even a dead-heat in Christchurch Central that will now be decided through special votes.

The election results highlighted three important aspects for me. First of all, New Zealanders showed a clear preference to keep the MMP voting system and this system now appears to be cemented into our political way of life. New Zealanders do not appear to want one party having all the power and they now obviously prefer a more consensus type government rather than the authoritative governments we had under First-Past-The-Post. There's really only one thing you have to remember about MMP to understand it—the party vote is what matters and the party vote decides the makeup of parliament, regardless of whom you elect as your electorate representative. The independent review of MMP that will now take place will be an interesting process and who knows what recommendations they will come up with? I would expect the one electorate seat proviso, which allows a party vote less than 5% to be counted, will go by the wayside. If that happens it might be seen to be fair to then reduce the party vote threshold from 5% to 4% for parties to gain representation in parliament? I would still love to see STV used to elect electorate MPs, even under MMP. This would bring about the most popular candidate
being elected rather than an electorate MP winning with a very low percentage support.

Secondly, National has had the best election result ever—it doesn't come much better than this—yet they still only have a slim majority to govern. This is because National has very few natural coalition partners to form a government and this must really be a worry for the Nat's as opposition to them over the next three years is likely to rise, especially if Winston Peters is on top of his game. If Winston can maintain his attack on National and their policies, he will make it very uncomfortable for them. He will certainly make politics more interesting if nothing else. If the Conservatives can continue their rise at the next election they may desperately be needed by National to govern in 2014, so they may indeed play a pivotal role in the future.

Thirdly, New Zealanders seem to be turning off politics in a big way. It is a damning indictment on our so-called democracy that only 73.83% of those registered to vote even bothered to do so. This is the lowest turnout since 1887. When you also take off the number of people who qualified to register to vote but did not even bother to register (even though by law they have to) this figure drops even further, probably around another 5%. So that puts the voter turnout in the 65-70% range! If we take National's share of this, then only around 30-35% of New Zealanders actually supported the National Party—hardly a legitimate mandate to implement all of its proposed policies, even though they are the more favoured party.

Granted, when an election is likely to be close, more people turn out to vote. Given this election was pretty much a foregone conclusion, many people probably felt it didn't matter whether they voted or not. I can't help but feel however, that people are feeling detached
and/or powerless when it comes to our political system. Let's face it, one vote every three
years isn't really a democracy. So many political decisions are made over that three year period that can dramatically effect all of our lives—decisions the majority of voters don't always agree with. Voters have a right to have more control over decisions that affect their lives and something needs to change here.

The election is over for another three years and to most people it's just life as usual with the election being just another interruption in their busy lives. After the 1996 election we didn't have a government for over two months (Winston Peters was negotiating with National and Labour), the country didn't grind to a halt then, most people didn't even notice and as usual most of us are probably happy the election rhetoric is now over yet again.

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