Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Gary Judd: MMP threshold should be raised


Given that we have MMP whether we like it or not, it seems to me that the threshold is the critical issue. As it is almost impossible for a single party to win majority support this gives rise to an inherent instability, and it delivers 'kingmaker' power to parties representing small factions. The obvious way of mitigating these evils is to raise the threshold.

What I have been able to glean from the Commission's website is that there were a few submissions advocating raising the threshold, but I have been unable to locate the actual submissions.


The Wallace Commission appears simply to have assumed that there should be the opportunity for representation by small parties and its reasoning (to reach the recommendation of 4%) is confined to discussing 4% or 5%.

However, the premise that there should be opportunity for representation by small parties needs to be questioned. Prior to MMP, by and large alternative views were accommodated by people becoming involved in, or putting pressure on the major parties. This is the present situation in the United States. Everyone is herded into two main political parties, who are divided along the broadest ideological divisions of the day. But that means that each party is itself an ideological coalition in which various factions are required to work with one another, while also competing against one another. The competition is over whose issues will take priority in the party's agenda. As I understand it, the US system was expressly designed to combat the evil of "faction", that is, of one group seizing the power of government to promote its own narrow interests at everyone else's expense – which is exactly what we have seen happening in New Zealand under the current system.

What should the threshold be? There has to be a threshold, it can't simply be: winner takes all! There need to be competing views within Parliament. What is needed, therefore, is to set the threshold at a level to make it almost impossible for one party to gain such a proportion of the vote that it is the only party in Parliament. In other words, the threshold needs to be set at a level which should ensure some competition within Parliament. If you look at the current make up, it seems that the 'left' and the 'right' each approach or exceed 50% of the voters. If the threshold were set at 40%, it could be expected that in all but quite unusual situations, one party would get at least 40%, but it would be impossible for there to be more than two parties represented in Parliament (40+40 = 80, so with only 20 available there would be no room for a third party, but the 20 could be split between the two to produce equality or one with a majority, and some ‘wasted’). If it was set at 30%, there could be no more than three parties (30+30+30 = 90, with 10 left) but in this case it would also be possible for no unsuccessful party to get 30% which would mean single party government.

With any of the thresholds set at a higher level there is a theoretical possibility of no party reaching the threshold and there is also the possibility — not quite so theoretical — of only one party reaching the threshold. In practice, however, people would be herded into one of the major parties, so that unless the threshold is very high, in practice neither of these outcomes would occur.

There are some complicated mathematics involved. But if the objective is to have both stable government and competition within Parliament, rather than to give every Tom, Dick and Harry a voice in Parliament as opposed to the opportunity of having a voice through a political party, this is the discussion which should be taking place.

3 comments:

Ray said...

Not sure using the US as an example of how to run a political systems is a good idea. Their government is almost completely locked up and they haven't even figured out how to count the votes properly. The electoral college system should have been discarded with the invention of the telegraph.
The question I always ask is are we a representative democracy or not. If we are then why is it OK for even small chunks of the people to not be represented? After all even a zero threshold means that in NZ you'd need around 25,000 votes to win a single seat. That is the population of a pretty reasonable sized town when you consider those who can't (under 18) or don't (the apathetic) vote.

Anonymous said...

I see the issue slightly different - how can we ensure representation without unearned power? For example, the Maori Party has been elected to represent a small percentage of the population (its voters). Fair enough, it should have representation in Parliament. It is wrong however that it is basically dictating the programme of Government

Nick Nikora said...

Anonymous said....

"I see the issue slightly different - how can we ensure representation without unearned power? For example, the Maori Party has been elected to represent a small percentage of the population(its voters). Fair enough, it should have representation in Parliament. It is wrong however that it is basically dictating the programme of Government".

It should be noted that the Maori Party gained 1.43% of the party vote last election whilst ACT gained 1.07%. What you're saying would make much more sense had you included the fact that ACT has had a major influence on two pieces of key legislation i.e Strike Three and You're Out and the legislation regarding the introduction of Charter Schools.

Next time please add some balance to your comments.

Nick Nikora