Sunday, September 29, 2019
Henry Armstrong: The Tyranny of the MinoritiesLabels: Democracy, Henry Armstrong, MMP
A significant example where FPP accommodates minority parties is of course the UK where the UDP, Scottish Nationalists and Lib-Dems all have representation.
Today however, in New Zealand, we see De Tocqueville’s theorem in reverse, for we are now at the mercy of extremely minor political parties exercising the balance of power, irrespective of the fact that some 85% of voters did not vote for these minority interests. Under New Zealand’s Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) system, a political party with 5% of the popular vote can indeed exercise an influence far beyond their numbers. An excellent example is the decision of the New Zealand First party to align itself with the Labour (a coalition of minorities to begin with) and the Green parties to form a political majority in the current parliament.
When New Zealanders voted to change the electoral system from FPP to MMP. I recall we were offered four options, including FPP, MMP and the Single Transferrable Vote (STV) options, the latter being exercised by some local authorities today. I also recall sitting down at our kitchen table on a Saturday and working through the various options. We concluded that if FPP was to be abandoned, then the next sensible option (to us anyway) was STV. But the majority of New Zealanders thought otherwise, no doubt swayed by media focusing on the rights of minorities as paramount, or did not accord sufficient attention to the various options and their relative pros and cons.
So, New Zealanders opted for MMP. Little perhaps did they realise that in future years, the vast majority of the voting public would be held hostage to very small minority (and often extreme) political interests. So be it. That’s what New Zealanders wanted and that’s what they got. I have no issue with this outcome but I would seriously question whether this situation is what the vast majority of New Zealanders today want for our future? I raise this question because every person I talk to is not at all happy with the status quo. Those who voted for MMP wish they had not, and those who did not vehemently state that fact.
Unlike traditional approaches to democracy, where electors have the opportunity to evaluate all candidates for office, under MMP, half of all MPs in parliament are NOT elected by their electorates. We have no input into their selection nor a chance to really evaluate their suitability for office. Half our MPs! How democratic is that?
Under FPP, a candidate had to convince their electorates that they were the best candidates for representation. Under MMP, a candidate need only be approved by their party apparatus and in many cases, are woefully deficient of skills, experience and abilities. Whilst many may disagree, it is obvious that merit has been sacrificed for diversity, resulting in a whole group of inexperienced, incompetent and ineffective MPs.
The New Zealand Labour Party is committed to ensuring that their MPs faithfully and strictly reflect the social make-up of NZ society-gender, ethnicity, age, etc and hopefully this focus will be accompanied by skills, experience and ability. Unfortunately, in the current parliament, this reservoir of skill, experience and ability is noticeably absent. A special course had to be mounted by Parliamentary Services apparently, to instruct incoming MPs on how to conduct meetings!
So, we now have a situation in New Zealand of “identity” politics defined as:
“a tendency for people of a particular religion, race, social background etc to form exclusive political alliances, moving away from traditional broad-based party politics”.
In other words, if a sufficient number of identity-focused groups combine under a wider political banner, they absolutely must form a majority. That is simple statistics. The interesting issue in NZ politics today is that whereas Labour has made an art form of identity politics, the National party still aims to represent a broad-based electorate which, apart from farmers, is almost devoid of politically focused minority groups. The nearest they have reached is a “blue-green” group within the party.
What all this means of course is that a majority of the New Zealand electorate may no longer expect to be represented by a majority of their electorate MPs. It is statistically almost impossible, unless one party achieves a 51% majority in a popular election. Even then, 50% of their MPs could be party appointees rather than elected by their communities. How democratic is this?
Well, democracy as many of the older generation knew it-one person, one vote, majority rule - which is defined as “majoritarian” democracy, is no longer an acceptable democratic framework for NZ. Basically, it is dead. Majoritarian democracy has been roundly rejected by Maori because statistically it condemns Maori to a permanent minority and therefore dilutes and minimizes their ability to impose their views on the NZ majority. But is this not mere reality? Apparently not, if a minority aspires or demands equal political power-termed “co-governance”.
“Co-governance”, the sharing of power between Maori and the remaining 84% of New Zealanders, masquerading as a treaty of Waitangi “partnership”, is already widely practiced within local and regional authorities, such as the Hauraki Gulf governance body, the Auckland Statutory Board and many district councils. The recent government report on fresh water issues proposes co-governance of New Zealand’s fresh water resources. But of course, such governance is not occasioned by elections, it is imposed upon the majority by local fiat. How democratic is that?
Today, a simple internet search of the term “democracy” reveals an astonishing array of permutations of this fundamental term. Google “Types of Democracy’ to view just how wide this concept is, which bears no resemblance to what most of us understood the term to mean.
So, in summary, having followed politics in NZ most of my life, somehow I failed to appreciate the enormity of this change to what I always understood the term democracy to mean. A change which has only really evolved since MMP. In effect, my version of democracy is a dead duck.
If New Zealanders wish to perpetuate a situation whereby 5% minorities of political fanatics (sorry, factions) exercise the balance of power and impose their often-warped views as central to the economic and social well-being of the nation, well and good-after all, that is now “democracy”, apparently.
But inevitably there will be a price to pay and the price could be the demise of our society as we know it. So be it.
Henry Armstrong is retired, follows politics, and writes.
at 10:47 PM