Book Reviews | Gordon Campbell | News Flashes | Scoop Features | Scoop Video | Strange & Bizarre | Search


Keith Rankin: Should NZ First be in Parliament?

Should NZ First be in Parliament?

Keith Rankin, 1 February 2001

With the Select Committee on MMP soon to present its findings, there is a sense that there will be no recommendations for major changes to our new electoral system, but possibly some 'token' concessions to appease those who, for many very different reasons, are not 100% satisfied with our present arrangements.

From some of the articles I have read - including one by psephologists Peter Aimer and Jack Vowles and another on behalf of the Christian Heritage Party - the most likely sacrificial token is the rule that a political party that gains an electorate seat is entitled to its fair proportion of MPs even if it doesn't achieve the 5% threshold. (To be fair to the Christians, they advocate a reduction of the 5% threshold to 4%.)

This 'electorate member' provision in not well understood, mainly because it was rarely discussed in the MMP referendum campaign (which focussed too much on less important aspects of MMP) and also because it is a complicating factor in what is otherwise a straight-forward proportional system. Never an issue in the 1996 election campaign, the rule suddenly became important in 1999. Electorates contested by the leaders of some smaller parties were given special attention by both major parties.

The only party so far to gain list MPs on account of the 'electorate member' rule has been New Zealand First, in 1999. (The Greens in 1999 got over 5% so did not need an electorate seat.) So it is particularly pertinent to consider whether the removal of the 'electorate member' rule would be fair to parties in the situation that NZ First faced. Perhaps, most importantly, we should consider the possible fate of NZ First had the National - NZ First coalition government not broken up in 1998. The Alliance, of course, is in the same position in 2001 as NZ First was in then.

But before considering that issue, we should note that one other party has been affected by the rule. United, by virtue of its leader's success in Ohariu-Belmont, qualified for one seat in a 120-seat Parliament. In the absence of the rule, United would have qualified for no seats, so Peter Dunne would have been, in effect, an Independent in a 121-seat Parliament.

The United situation raises two issues. The first is that, in the absence of the 'electorate member' rule, our Parliament would frequently - perhaps normally - have 121 or 122 members. That would upset those who genuinely believe that, with 120 MPs, we are over-represented.

Second, let's imagine that National had stood a candidate in Ohariu- Belmont, that Peter Dunne would not have won Ohariu-Belmont had National stood a candidate, and that the 'electorate member' rule did not exist. National would have got say 40 seats (33.3% of 120), regardless of whether the National or Labour candidate won Ohariu-Belmont. Now imagine National withdrawing its candidate and Peter Dunne winning. (National's share of the party vote would of course be unchanged). National would now have, in effect, 41 seats out of 121 (33.9%). The upshot is that the 'electorate member' rule negates this opportunities that National and Labour have to boost their presence in Parliament with nominally independent MPs who are in reality beholden to them.

In the 1999 campaign, the 'electorate member' rule was misleadingly presented as a means by which an electorate victory to someone like Jeanette Fitzsimons could get a whole cohort of "unelected" Green Party members into Parliament. The correct interpretation is that the 5% threshold rule prevents a number of "elected" candidates from small parties from taking their place in Parliament. The 'electorate member' rule overrides this 5% disqualification rule. Nobody gets in through the 'electorate member' rule unless they were voted for in the usual way. For example, United got so few votes that no other United candidates were able to join their leader in Parliament. NZ First got 4% of the vote, hence 5 seats.

The 'electorate member' rule favours established small parties over new small parties. And that's the way it should be. The high 5% hurdle was imposed to limit the numbers to new parties entering Parliament, and not to hasten the exit of established parties.

The reality of coalition government is that the smaller partner finds it very hard to maintain its popular support. The spoils of success go in the main to the dominant partner, while the blame for failings and perceived failings falls disproportionately on the smaller coalition partner. The 'electorate member' rule significantly increases the survival chances of a smaller party that may have acted for the national good (or at least its perception of the national good) at the expense of its own poll ratings. After all, we expect parties in government to act in a non-party-political way.

The 5% disqualification rule - even a 4% disqualification rule - is unfairly tough on small coalition partners or government-supporting parties. The 'electorate member' rule offsets this potential source of instability, substantially reducing the chance of such a party being removed entirely from Parliament. NZ First did attempt to play a constructive role, and was unfairly blamed for much that should have been laid at National's door.

The 'electorate member' rule certainly played a part in allowing NZ First to retain its presence in Parliament. But it was another rule that played the bigger part: "first-past-the-post". Winston Peters was hardly "elected" as MP of Tauranga. He only got 33% of the vote. The biggest flaw with our electoral legislation is in fact the retention of first-past-the-post voting. A suitable token change would be, for the electorate vote, to replace first- past-the-post with preferential voting.

It is likely that the 'electorate member' rule will save the Alliance in 2002. But what if it's abolished. How should government supporters vote? I believe that, if the 'electorate member' rule is abolished, then a new type of tactical voting will emerge. Core Labour supporters will vote tactically for the Alliance in order to prevent the government founding on account of the 5% threshold rule disqualifying a significant proportion of government votes.

The 'electorate member' rule, by ameliorating the 5% disqualification rule, enables smaller parties with something to offer to survive long enough to rebound. (I cannot see NZ First surviving though, despite its leader's political tenacity.) Otherwise such parties are dismissed too abruptly. Or they survive indefinitely courtesy of tactical voting.

The 'electorate member' rule, combined with the 5% disqualification rule, enables political parties to evolve at about the right pace for a modern society. A new party is likely to enter Parliament every decade or so, while junior coalition partners have a chance to survive problems that beset governments they were once a part of.

Copyright 2001 Keith Rankin

© Scoop Media

Top Scoops Headlines


Werewolf: Living With Rio’s Olympic Ruins

Mariana Cavalcanti Critics of the Olympic project can point a discernible pattern in the delivery of Olympics-related urban interventions: the belated but rushed inaugurations of faulty and/or unfinished infrastructures... More>>

Live Blog On Now: Open Source//Open Society Conference

The second annual Open Source Open Society Conference is a 2 day event taking place on 22-23 August 2016 at Michael Fowler Centre in Wellington… Scoop is hosting a live blog summarising the key points of this exciting conference. More>>



Gordon Campbell: On The Politicising Of The War On Drugs In Sport

It hasn’t been much fun at all to see how “war on drugs in sport” has become a proxy version of the Cold War, fixated on Russia. This weekend’s banning of the Russian long jumper Darya Klishina took that fixation to fresh extremes. More>>


Binoy Kampmark: Kevin Rudd’s Failed UN Secretary General Bid

Few sights are sadder in international diplomacy than seeing an aging figure desperate for honours. In a desperate effort to net them, he scurries around, cultivating, prodding, wishing to be noted. Finally, such an honour is netted, in all likelihood just to shut that overly keen individual up. More>>

Open Source / Open Society: The Scoop Foundation - An Open Model For NZ Media

Access to accurate, relevant and timely information is a crucial aspect of an open and transparent society. However, in our digital society information is in a state of flux with every aspect of its creation, delivery and consumption undergoing profound redefinition... More>>

Keeping Out The Vote: Gordon Campbell On The US Elections

I’ll focus here on just two ways that dis-enfranchisement is currently occurring in the US: (a) by the rigging of the boundary lines for voter districts and (b) by demanding elaborate photo IDs before people are allowed to cast their vote. More>>

Ramzy Baroud: Being Black Palestinian - Solidarity As A Welcome Pathology

It should come as no surprise that the loudest international solidarity that accompanied the continued spate of the killing of Black Americans comes from Palestine; that books have already been written and published by Palestinians about the plight of their Black brethren. In fact, that solidarity is mutual. More>>


Get More From Scoop

Top Scoops
Search Scoop  
Powered by Vodafone
NZ independent news