Why we love MMP

On November 26th MMP must fight to prove its worth against contenders for ‘New Zealand’s best electoral system’ including FPP, PV, STV, and SM. For me, this fight is far more important than the one for the Web Ellis Trophy. Who wins is up to you. However, the choice to save MMP should not be difficult for it has done everything that could have been hoped for.

MMP gives the public more control over who forms our government than we’ve ever had before. When a party betrays our trust, not voting for it actually has a demonstrable effect. New Zealand First went from 13% of the party vote in 1996 to 4% three years later because he formed a government he said he never would. The number of seats won dropped proportionately.

MMP has created a greater check and balance against our government since rarely will only one party gain an absolute majority in parliament. According to Levine and Roberts, if we had chosen SM (the closest system to the old FPP) instead of MMP originally, since 1996 there would have been 3 single-party majority governments. Single-party majorities are able to do whatever they please as there is not the same separation of powers between the executive and legislature found in presidential systems like the USA. Elections would also have been three times more disproportionate.1 This means that though everyone gets one vote, some votes would have counted more than others. Under FPP the imbalance was so bad that in 1978 and 1981 the National party gained a majority in parliament and the power to govern as it pleased even though it received less of the vote nationally than Labour did.

MMP has increased the diversity of our parliament. After the last FPP election in 1993 the number of women in parliament was just 21% of the total. This has jumped to 34% in 2008 under MMP. The statistics for ethnic minorities are even more startling as they have more than doubled from FPP figures. Under FPP there were no Asian MPs. Now there are five. Maori representation has gone from a high of 7% under FPP to a high and relatively stable 17%.

MMP has reinvigorated the select committees as avenues for public participation. There has been an increase in reviews of public agencies, reports on the signing of International treaties and inquiries into the actions of the government. This has helped to increase transparency in general. Again this is partly a product of MMP because the government majority in select committees is reduced.

Though I love this system, I’m not blind. MMP has faults, two of them significant. The first is the high threshold combined with the ability to gain entry to parliament via electorate seats. In 2008 ACT and the Maori Party both got into parliament where New Zealand First did not, but NZ First gained more of the national vote than either of them (4% to 3.65% and 2.39% respectively). The selection of list MPs is also decidedly fishy. This is particularly because list MPs are generally decided by the party elite and does not involve the wider membership. Should MMP survive the fight, it will go through a revision process which will weed out these and other faults.

Without MMP our democracy loses all its colour and vibrancy. Voting will cease to be meaningful. As Jean-Jacques Rousseau once said of the English, we would be “free only during election of members of parliament; as soon as the members are elected, the people is enslaved; it is nothing. In the brief moment of its freedom, the English people makes such a use of that freedom that it deserves to lose it.”