Monday, May 22, 2023

Graeme Reeves: MMP – Calling time on a failed experiment

Matthew Hooton in the Herald on Friday, May 5 2023 wrote under the headline, “MMP – calling time on a failing experiment”.

I have altered the headline because, in my view, the experiment is not failing it has failed and failed dramatically. I was a member of the National Party caucus that presided over the referenda that followed the publication of the Royal Commission which recommended that MMP was the most favoured system over Single Transferrable Vote, Mixed Member or preferential. I was not in favour of the change being  implemented on the a simple majority at a general election.

As it happened the change to MMP was preferred by a majority of 54%.

It was my view then and remains so that such a significant change to New Zealand’s electoral system should have required a 75% majority.

MMP was sold to the electorate on the promise that both votes, the electorate vote for the candidate and the Party vote would be of equal value.

That, of course, was never the case. In reality there is only one vote the matters and that is the Party vote. That is because the number of seats that a Party has in Parliament is determined by the percentage of the vote a Party receives at a general election. In other words the number of seats in Parliament is directly proportional to the percentage of the vote the Party receives.

So if a Party wins 40% of the Party vote it is entitled to 40% of 120 which is 48 seats. If the Party won 20 electorate seats the balance of 28 is picked up from the party list.

Therefore it does not matter to the Party how many electorate seats are won so long as the Party wins over 5% of the vote  or does not win over 5% but wins one electorate seat they are entitled to receive the percentage  proportion of MPs.

What MMP does is to transfer the power away from the electorates (the people) to the Party elite who effectively control the Party List rankings.

To my mind this is highly undemocratic.

As a result the party members who are the grass roots volunteers who support the party have very little say in who is selected to represent them in Parliament in most cases under MMP.

MMP was designed and introduced into the German electoral system after WW11 as way of diffusing political power to prevent the rise of another Hitler.

New Zealand’s political, social and economic history has no similarity with that of pre-war Germany and why we should adopt an electoral system that was imposed on them seems senseless to me.

To its credit the Wallace Report (Royal Commission) recommendations included, but were rejected by the National Government, that the Maori seats should be abolished because, in their view, they had been detrimental to the progress of Maori and the reason for them, which was to give Maori a vote, which would have otherwise been denied them because they did not, in 1853, own land individually but collectively, and therefore were disenfranchised. I might add that the Chinese miners were in the same predicament and similar provisions were made for them.

The Maori Representation Act 1867 gave Maori men the vote 12 years before European men.

However, when in 1893 universal suffrage was introduced the Chinese Miners seats were abolished as should have been the Maori seats because land ownership was no longer a requirement to vote in a General Election. Remembering Maori men already had the vote when European men who did not own property did not.

Hooton in his article suggested that New Zealand might be better served by adopting the Single Transferable Vote (STV) system as Japan has.

 Whilst I agree with Hooton that STV has the advantage that every Member of Parliament is elected by the people (not appointed by the Party elite) I prefer the Australian preferential voting system.

The Japanese have 176 members of Parliament who are elected from11 Multi-Member constituencies by a party-list system of proportional representation, and 289 are elected from single- member constituencies. The overall voting system used to elect the House of Representatives is a parallel system, a form of semi-proportional representation.

The system seems more like the Mixed Member system that was proposed for New Zealand but dismissed by the Royal Commission.

In contrast, a Preferential system provides that every MP in the House of Representatives represents an electorate, but not on a plurality vote. Instead of being elected on a plurality they are elected on a majority which is arrived at by distributing the preferences until a candidate has a majority of 50 percent.

I see many advantages arising from a preferential system of voting, among them are:

1. Every MP is elected by an electorate and is accountable to the constituents. Governance of the people by the people for the people.

2. There would be 120 seats instead of 60. Smaller seats would allow for the seats to provide for much better communities of interest and therefore encourage a greater diversity of candidates all of whom would be selected by the electorate and not appointed by the party elite.

3. Party lists are eliminated which gives more power to the voters in each electorate to select a candidate who, if elected, is accountable to the all of the people of their electorate in a much more direct way. The voters have the power not the Party elite.

4. There is no waka jumping, no tail wagging the dog, no overhangs. The voters choose the Government transparently rather than by the bizarre cloak and dagger machinations undertaken in secret, and remaining secret after the fact, that we suffer under MMP in New Zealand.

5. Maori seats would be abolished with the introduction of the preferential voting system along with the discriminatory Maori electoral roll.

Let’s democratise our democracy.

Graeme Reeves is a lawyer and former National MP.


EP said...

I very much agree with you Graeme, but there is another big question. NZ is increasingly seeing people omitting to vote. One could say that if they don't bother their vote is not worth much, but it seems to me that citizens must begin to take more responsibility for their government. The more complicated the process the less the uninterested can manage. Seems we need the carrot and the stick - more assistance for the genuinely incapable - and stick - fines - for the 'can't be bothered.'

Tinman said...

While I agree that MMP is not perfect neither would STV or any other "proportional" electoral system be until included are means for the electorate to correct those elected at any time (including removal if necessary) and a very strict definition of what the "representing the electorate" actually entails.

Current politicians, particularly those guaranteed three years, more often than not, pay no heed to the electorate they are paid to represent once they attain their aim and become apparatchiks for the party.

This must cease and until it does no electoral system can succeed.

Phil Blackwell

An aside: Mr Reeves, you must be proud to have been part of the only government to, by introducing proportional representation, rival the current lot for damage done to New Zealand. Well done!

William Mockridge said...

MMP has to go, for a number of reasons, as you mention, such as that the Party hierarchy is actually in control.
Also is the reality that MMP Governments are often pushed to fringe or extreme policies by small parties of nutters and that pre-election policy promises, get churned and shredded in coalition negotiations.
It could be described, that under MMP, NZ often ends up ‘driving in the gravel’ on either shoulder of the ‘road’, rather than the smoother tar seal, near the middle.
Obviously, race based seats should have been removed in 1893, but I don’t see any Parties currently willing to walk into that hornet’s nest of accusations of being anti-Treaty Racists.
Preferential voting means the MP elected has a majority of voter support, even if not all are first choices.
And all being Electorate MPs, they are more likely to aware of, and respond to public concerns, rather than the narrow focus of those on the List.
Apparently though, there is a problem with the Australian system, in that you are required to rank every single candidate or your vote is invalid.
That would need to change to where you can vote for only those candidates that you find acceptable to some degree.

Graham Sharpe said...

Actually Supplementary Member would be much better. If we had say 80 constituency MPs and 40 list MPs, it would increase the significance of the local MP. The List MPs are given in the ratio of the vote, so a party winning 10% of the vote gets 4 MPs plus any constituency MPs it wins. Note this differs from MMP in a very important way - the list MPs are allocated purely on the voting proportion. So a party with say two local MPs and 10% of the vote gets six MPs, not 12 as it would under MMP.
This would lead to more stable government as there would be less chance of the tail wagging the dog. Also it does give an independent candidate a chance, and some oportunity to smaller parties - 40 list seats gives an effective cut off of 2.5% for a seat. The parties would have to go harder for local MPs, and that would be a good thing.
STV gives bizzare results - e.g. Kerry Prendergast losing the Wellington Mayoralty. And it is not a single vote - those who vote for no chance candidates get a second, third or whatever vote. STV enables nutters frankly.
As for Preferential Syatems, they do enhance the two party monopoly more than Supplementary.
But overall I agree with Mr Reeves on the two important issues:
MMP needs a relook, a debate, and alternatives considered:
Maori Seats are past their use by date and should be abolished.
Graham Sharpe.

Anonymous said...

Essential - but perhaps too late now.

Ewan McGregor said...

I agree with many of the points that Graeme has raised here. This includes the fact that such a constitutional change, and one likely to be difficult to reverse, was determined on a simple majority. Such may be the case of a first-past-the-post system of electing representatives, but in just three years time (with us) it’s up for review. The swings of public opinion are such that it only takes an unpopular (but warranted) decision or two by a government for it to be out of favour. But in a democracy you’re not stuck with it until there’s a revolution or catastrophic war. (E. g. Hitler)
A good example of the dangers of a at least generationally permanent position to be determined by a simple majority was that of the U K narrowly voting for Brexit. If another referendum was to be held now it would almost certainly be overturned, but they’re stuck with it.
Another objection I have with MMP, not mentioned by Graeme in his piece, is the way a list M P can set him or her self up as an assumed constituency one, even when defeated in that electorate. For example, (this is not hypothetical), a defeated M P, but returned on the list can change the wording on his billboards from ‘M P for Napier’ to ‘M P, Napier’, and run a ‘constancy’ office along with the elected M P. This means that that constituency effectively has double the voting power in Parliament than a neighbouring one where such a case does not exist.

Anonymous said...

And as for those who dispute the government's jurisdiction altogether – they are certainly right to do so. We are after all, living, sovereign beings upon God's Earth and are not the incorporated tax slaves held as collateral against the national debt that the government believes us to be. Indeed today, the postal address for the incorporated legal entity which has unlawfully supplanted our government and which is known as: HER MAJESTY THE QUEEN IN RIGHT OF NEW ZEALAND, is:

C/- The New Zealand Debt Management Office, The New Zealand Treasury, 1 The Terrace, PO Box 3724, Wellington 6140, New Zealand

In other words, our tax dollars are being stolen from us to pay the interest on the national debt to the financial elite, just as a subservient King of ancient times would collect taxes to pay tribute to his Emperor.

Anonymous said...

I vote for a Direct Democracy like the Swiss have or a Constitutional Republic.

Anonymous said...

Given the racial elite in NZ supported by the taxpayer (from their tax-free charities to their unmanaged pregnancies) then certainly there is government theft to support the spurious claims of the self-identifying racial minority ( no doubt some of them using their genetic mix to justify picking up all the perks they can).

There is no doubt that MMP is a distorted system and that coalitions bring power to the minorities whereas the big political groups miss out because of party politics. For example -hypothetically- if National won the right to form a government it would probably represent far more of the voters if it had a coalition with Labour but of course that doesn’t happen so the second largest chunk of voters miss out.

While on paper the Aus system may look good who has seen the voting papers? They are huge and complicated and confusing. That is not how voting should be.

So for my part, I am back to first past the post. Simple but adequate for a small population.

Sure the extremists might feel they miss out but equally they do not get disproportionate power. And they still have the right to a public voice. Not like today where the extremist voice is the only voice and getting louder and uglier and more repressive.

Of course another option is for votes to be for individuals not parties and to move away from identity politics????

Terry Morrissey said...

I agree that MMP must go, as all it has achieved is to introduce the fearmongers, the ideologues and the nutters. Still the best system in my opinion is FPP. That way all those elected have campaigned and have convinced the voters in their respective electorates that they are the best, in the voters’ opinion, to represent them. This would have a positive effect on weeding out a lot of the incompetents as all candidates would have come under scrutiny by the voters and not just the party hierarchy.
I would also support a move to voting being compulsory with penalties for non-compliance but with abstaining as an option on the ballot paper. No electronic voting.
A system of recall should also be introduced to get rid of those found to be dishonest or incompetent.
Any MP who resigns or is sacked by their party should be dismissed from Parliament and a by-election called.
The Maori seats and electoral roll need to be abolished to give a true voter preference for democracy.

mudbayripper said...

MMP when presented to the people to decide apon through referendum was so obviously another step on the long march to negatively effect our democracy. The way in which it was to operate was probably unseen by most, if not all. But hindsight is a wonderful thing.
Equally the Maori seats represent a further attack on democracy and needed to have been abolished a century ago.
We're are our championships with the courage to front this deception and hold these liars and cheats to account.
Our freedom and our children's freedom is on the line.

Ross said...

Graham Sharpe above has got it worked out. The change needed is relatively small. All you are doing is making the party vote, only apply to list seats.

If you want to change the number of electorate MPs, then that is obviously another change.

Anonymous said...

Politicians have committed to abolishing Maori seats but then backed off for expediency.

Anonymous said...

Under MMP the Maori partywith less than 2% of the actual vote and the Greens with about 8% combined approximately 10% of the vote or 1 I 10 people voting for them could hold enormous power as " king makers " to consign the other 90 % of us to a racially divided backwater.
Cannot the major parties and the majority of Kiwis see MMP for what it is, a baised undemocratic system that will eventually destroy our once free and prosperous country

Ray Ward-Smith said...

All very complex and may not be understood by the average eligible voter, especially if they have gone through the current failed education system. I required careful study to fully understand the implications of Graham Sharpe's post following the reference by Ross. I can agree with Graham only in that it is more likely to get voter support. In any case any proposed change would need a very clear proposal. Very clear definitions of various systems and acronyms as it is essential to have high voter turnout. Many elections in recent times have had poor turn out, maybe through apathy, poor understanding and presentation. Local body elections are a case in point in this country, often with poor turnout. Successful democracy requires good good candidates and good voter participation to get good governance.

Murray Reid said...

Prior to MMP none of my votes in previous elections counted. Under MMP at least one of my 2 votes counts. I would have preferred STV but it was decided that it was too complicated for Kiwis, thus admitting our average IQ must be less than an Aussie!
The easy fix would be to have fewer list MP's. No more than a quarter of the total would be my pick.
I might add that in Australia voting is compulsory, not so here.

Anonymous said...

I think of the main problems is that MMP was forced onto an already functioning FPP democracy.

Other countries with MMP don't have two major parties that had been in opposition to each other for over fifty years dominating.

MMP was supposed to bring in a new era of consensus politics. Although a few centrist parties have existed, they are mostly gone now (unless NZ First gets back in).

Now we have two major parties who are pulled further away from the centre by the junior parties they go into coalition. The end result is a nation even more divided than before.

Should have gone for Supplementary Member voting, but if we are going to stick with MMP, we should drop the 5% threshold down to 1%. At least it would be representative and let more minor parties, which would give the major parties more choices for coalition partners

Russ said...

Party politics suck! Imagine New Zealand without political parties. We'd be living the dream. The opinion below is not perfect but a better democracy we would be. “One opinion is as good as another and the opinion favoured by the majority wins” - 100 Electorates ; 1 FPP-Elected Prime Minister; 100 FPP-Elected M.P.’s.