04 September 2012

Submission on the MMP proposals paper

The Electoral Commission's MMP review is nearing the end of its consultation phase, with submissions on the draft proposals accepted until Friday 7 September. Here's my brief submissions on the Commission's findings, with the proposals in bold and my comments underneath - which are clearly made in a personal capacity only.

 · The one electorate seat threshold for the allocation of list seats should be abolished.

Agree. The original intent of the Royal Commission on the Electoral System (RCES) was for the threshold exemption to permit parties with a specifically regional focus, like a South Island Party, to emerge. Instead, parties gamed the system by withholding candidates in key electorates, subverting the intent of MMP by reducing voter choice.

· The party vote threshold for the allocation of list seats should be lowered to 4%.

Agree. Ideally the threshold should be lower, perhaps 2.5 or 3 percent, but this could be considered at the next electoral system review after 2-3 more elections.

· Candidates should continue to be able to stand both in an electorate and on a party list at general elections.

· List MPs should continue to be able to contest by-elections.

Agree both. Weakening the role of list MPs would weaken MMP as a whole, and is not in keeping with the spirit of the system, which holds that list and electorate MPs are equals. There is also not a large enough pool of expertise of potential political candidates to risk instituting an arbitrary ban on dual candidacy or list MPs standing in byelections. Critics of the existing system have also failed to demonstrate that either matter is a serious problem. They are probably ill-disposed to the idea of list MPs in the first place. 

· Political parties should continue to have responsibility for the composition and ranking of candidates on their party lists.

Agree. The onus is on parties to produce lists that are popular with voters; if voters don’t like who’s on a party list then they shouldn’t vote for that party. The vast majority of voters couldn’t care less and would struggle to obtain enough meaningful information to make an informed judgement. My only suggestion is that perhaps list rankings should be compulsory for all party candidates, so voters can be fully informed about a party’s roster, and so the party list can act as a complete historical record. At the moment some electorate MPs drop off the list for personal ‘branding’ purposes (“my only loyalty is to my electorate, not to the party list”) or because they are dissatisfied with their potential ranking. Ranking all candidates could be compulsory, or a ‘non-ranked’ section at the bottom of each party’s rankings could list the non-ranked candidates in alphabetical order.

· The provision for overhang seats should be abolished for parties that do not cross the party vote threshold.

Agree. The existing overhang arrangements encourage voters to game the system, as can be seen in the Maori electorates in the past few elections. The system should take every opportunity to encourage voters to cast their votes for the parties and candidates they actually favour. 

· On the basis of current information it would be prudent to identify 76 electorate seats (in a 120 seat Parliament) as the point at which the risk to proportionality from insufficient list seats becomes unacceptable. New Zealand is unlikely to reach that point before 2026.

· The gradual erosion of lists seats relative to electorate seats risks undermining the diversity of representation in Parliament. Parliament should review this matter.

Agree. In fact the proportion of electorate seats to list seats should be reduced over time. Ideally the balance between list and electorate seats should return to the even 60/60 split envisioned by the RCES. MPs have favoured electorate representation over list seats because they seek the reputation and profile of an electorate MP, which has led to the growing imbalance. The minimum allocation for South Island electorates should be abolished, and in the medium term (perhaps at the next review) consideration should be given to increasing the size of Parliament to 140 members.

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