• How MMP Is Meant to Work

    There will no doubt be many who will be outraged if Winston Peters agrees to join Labour and the Greens in a coalition government.  But they will be wrong – reflecting a first-past-the-post mentality that should have no place in an MMP environment.

    The objectors will argue that New Zealand First’s obligation is to join the party securing the greatest number of votes (and seats).  But – however strongly they may feel that the National party, as the largest party, somehow has a moral claim to be in government – there is no such obligation, either in principle or in the rules.

    On the contrary, MMP is specifically designed to ensure that the largest party does not necessarily walk off with all the spoils.  One of the great weaknesses of a first-past-the-post election is that it ensured that the “winner” – even if falling short of a majority of the votes cast – can in most cases secure a parliamentary majority, and can then proceed to treat parliament as its poodle, paying little attention to the interests of that wide range of opinions not represented in government.

    It was this kind of outcome that led Quintin Hogg, later the British Conservative peer, Lord Hailsham, to describe such a government as an “elective dictatorship”.  MMP was designed to ensure that a party would, improbably, have to win an outright majority of votes and seats before it could govern without reference to any other party.

    The essence of an MMP government is, in other words, not that it has more votes and seats than any other single party.  The only thing that matters – as it always does under any voting system in a Westminster-style parliament – is that it must be able to win crucial votes in parliament – that is, it must have a parliamentary majority.  How that majority is made up, and whether or not it includes the largest party, is completely irrelevant.  A coalition of (let us say) the five smallest parties in parliament would be perfectly legitimate, as long as it commanded a majority.

    The point of the MMP reform is that it should produce a parliament that is more representative of the various interests and opinions in the country, and that the government of the day should have to pay more attention to the views of the whole of parliament rather than just those of its own members.  It is not unrealistic to say that, in our experience of MMP, those goals have largely been achieved.

    Today’s parliament, by comparison with those of a couple of decades ago, boasts a greater representation of women and minorities of various kinds, and governments are more likely to be compelled to negotiate for support from smaller parties rather than being able simply to over-ride them.

    The delay as we await the formation of a coalition government, in other words, is not some unforeseen and unfortunate and quixotic malfunction.  It is the intended and positive outcome of a constructive and planned reform.

    The interesting aspect of MMP, though, is that it has produced for us a beneficial combination of outcomes that may not have been fully foreseen.  In what we might flatter ourselves is an expression of the genius of the New Zealand voter, we have succeeded in not only bringing about a more representative and fairer parliament and a more responsive government.

    We have at the same time managed to retain for the voters a genuine and recognisable choice between two main groupings – in conventional terms, one on the left and one on the right.  So, we have in effect the best of both worlds – a fairer system but also one that does not preclude the emergence of an effective majority government that is more or less in line with the public’s wishes.

    In our current situation, the two competing blocs are perhaps less to be described in conventional terms of left and right (it would not be clear where New Zealand First might fit in such a dichotomy). The distinction is rather between those favouring the status quo and that majority who are looking for change.  New Zealand First’s position on that spectrum is pretty clear – and they deserve no criticism for acting on that preference.

    Bryan Gould

    8 October 2017

     

     

     

     

10 Comments

  1. mikesh says: October 8, 2017 at 4:31 amReply

    Winston of course is not completely free to choose the next government. He cannot form a coalition that doesn´t include one or other of the the two largest parties.

    • Bryan Gould says: October 25, 2017 at 11:13 pmReply

      Absolutely. Winston has only the power that any other party has – that is, to join or help form a coalition that can command a majority. Critics cannot seem to understand that being the largest party, but being unable to command a majority in parliament, means that you lose. The “rules” of MMP are those of simple arithmetic.

  2. Bryan Gould says: October 8, 2017 at 7:19 amReply

    Agreed.

  3. Marian Nouwens says: October 24, 2017 at 6:08 amReply

    Brian you refer to MMP rules – where are these documented. I searched for these but only found several documents stating NZ MMP coalitions do not have any rules around how the government is formed unlike other MMP countries which do. For example Germany, where the leader of party with the most votes is automatically appointed Prime Minister and it is up to him / her to negotiate with parties to form a coalition. There is a huge groundswell in NZ against a party with 7% of the votes organising the coalition negotiations and ultimately choosing the Prime Minister and that we should have some rules around this. I agree, it is absolutely undemocratic.

  4. Dave T says: October 24, 2017 at 5:55 pmReply

    The real logic is simple N won th most votes 44% , L lost – 35% so is F lost -7% and G lost -6%.They all rebel against N who won . They all gang up refused to concede being looser so want to win dirty ,they all combined to claim winner . People and around the world find they are bunch of looser claim their head high declaring as winner but insider within their heart they know in fact they are looser. If they willing to concede there will be no chance Winne can be king maker and this scenarios of MMP will not be laughing matter by the world. Haha…

    • Bryan Gould says: October 25, 2017 at 11:05 pmReply

      You can’t seem to get your head round the fact that, whatever electoral system we use, we run a parliamentary democracy. In such a democracy, there is only way to “win” and that is to command a majority in parliament. If you can’t do that, you lose. Coalition governments,combining parties that cannot by themselves produce a majority, are quite common, even under first-past-the-post electoral systems. The best thing you can do is get used to the idea that National, in the absence of any support parties, lost.

  5. Waldo says: October 26, 2017 at 12:49 amReply

    Here’s what doesn’t make sense to me: NZF got 7% of the country’s vote, meaning that their policies were of particular importance to only 7% of the country. Under MMP though they got to negotiate for these policies from a position of *significantly* greater influence than that 7% would indicate. So the people of New Zealand end up with a government that is more anti-immigration, anti-foreign investment, etc than they indicated preference for. That doesn’t seem very democratic.

    • Bryan Gould says: October 26, 2017 at 2:29 amReply

      But an outcome exactly like this is possible under first-the-post and is implicit whenever there is a need to form a coalition. Prospective coalition partners will always negotiate for what they can get but will generally only make such an attempt with a party with which they agree on most things. The only reason this instance seems unusual (and obviously unwelcome to National supporters) is that the prospective partner had a choice between two groups and opted to negotiate with both of those groups before reaching a decision as to which coalition to join. The number of seats that each partner brings to the deal (and whether or not the party with the largest number is part of the deal) is completely immaterial. The only thing that matters is which group can command a majority in parliament. The fact that NZ First was able to influence the new government’s programme should not be a surprise – that is what coalition is about. It seems you would rather leave more than 55% of the voters without any representation or influence over the government at all – leaving a government that failed to get a majority of votes (or, under MMP, of seats) free to govern without reference to anyone else at all.

      • Waldo says: October 27, 2017 at 12:05 amReply

        “But an outcome exactly like this is possible under first-the-post and is implicit whenever there is a need to form a coalition.”

        Agreed, though logically the MMP system makes this more likely given the greater opportunity to reach a majority via such coalitions.

        “The fact that NZ First was able to influence the new government’s programme should not be a surprise – that is what coalition is about. It seems you would rather leave more than 55% of the voters without any representation or influence over the government at all – leaving a government that failed to get a majority of votes (or, under MMP, of seats) free to govern without reference to anyone else at all.”

        You’re somewhat keenly reading into what I said here. I’m not for “leav[ing] more than 55% of the voters without any representation or influence”. (And, always voting Green, I have no vinegar whatsoever over the National Party.)

        In this instance our isolated island nation allowed a small party with particularly isolationist and xenophobic attitudes a level of influence far beyond what their degree of voting representation indicated they should have. You say that’s “representation and influence”? Sure, but it’s wildly disproportional to the number of those voters. That to me is a fail, irrespective of the system used.

        The multi-culturalism that stems from immigration is one of the things I love about NZ. The housing market issue is more complex than immigration, and has a lot to do with our ever-increasing regulatory environment. Immigration is an easy, and poor, target.