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August 20, 2012 | by  | in Opinion |
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Political Porn

Reviewing the MMP review

So the Electoral Commission has done its thing, releasing its review of the Mixed Member Proportional system. By the time this column is in front of you, much of it will have been chewed through by a variety of commentators, providing analysis of what it means for which party and whether or not National will support the changes.

The most notable recommended changes are those around the threshold for list MPs; removing one electorate seat coat-tailing and lowering the party vote percentage from five to four per cent in compensation.

The criticism around the electorate seat threshold all of a similar vein; parties were abusing the rule, it gave voters in a particular electorate more say over the outcome of an election, it was unfair and so on and so forth.

A lot of people were opposed to the rule, which was no doubt fuelled by the on-going saga of last year’s Tea Party at the Urban Cafe in Newmarket.

What this criticism of the electorate seat threshold seems to ignore is the effect it has on “wasted vote”. An electorate seat threshold reduces the number of wasted votes by counting the party vote of any party that’s won an electorate seat.

MMP was formed on the back of criticism of the First Past the Post system, which resulted in an unfair allocation of votes. This was particularly seen at the 1981 general election

when Social Credit received over 20 per cent of the “popular vote” but only won around 2 per cent of the seats in Parliament.

Proportional representation goes hand in hand with minimising wasted vote. Some may not appreciate the behaviour used by particular parties to use the system to their own benefit, but voters don’t appreciate gaming of the system. Parties are fully aware of the risk of a voter backlash against such practices.

The proposed changes by the Electoral Commission will make our Parliament less proportional, as the four per cent hurdle may prove to be too hard to clear, especially without an electorate seat to give voters the confidence to cast their ballot in favour of a minor party.

The Government is not required to adopt the proposed changes, only to consider them. Whilst adopting them would likely spell the end to the prop-up duo of John Banks and Peter Dunne, it is apparently their ticket to a third term in government, putting Colin Craig and Winston Peters in the role of kingmaker.

In an earlier edition of this column, it was outlined that National’s position on holding the pension age at 65 was done with one eye partly on 2014. Even before the Electoral Commission’s recommendations came out, National had been staring down the barrel of coming out of the next election without a centre-right coalition partner. Winston wants to leave the super age at 65, Shearer wants to raise it. Key is telling Peters that post 2014 he’ll need to side with him if he wants to keep it 65.

Lowering the threshold to 4 per cent would also be fertiliser for wannabe MP Colin Craig. His party polled around 2.5 per cent at the election, lifting it to 4 per cent makes it just that little bit easier for Craig to enter the scene. It’s good news for National, who would want to distance themselves from some of his move divisive views, but still want his votes. No longer will they need to try and engineer a seat deal to see him elected to Parliament.

It’s a shame to see that the electorate vote will remain First Past the Post. A preferential or alternative vote on the electorate candidates would mean parties like the Greens could stop pulling their “vote for who you think is the best candidate” routine. It would also mean electorate votes could be cast for candidates people are most in favour of, rather than being cast to stop someone else being elected, as so often occurs currently.

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