Time to debate proportional representation
Time to debate proportional representationBy Sridhar Ekambaram
30 September 2014
With the elections over, it is time to reflect on the electoral process governing New Zealand. MMP has allowed for a better representation in this country’s Parliament. The system allows minor parties who represent the needs of certain sectors of the society to make their pitch and be voted in.
However, it is also time to understand some of the issues being faced:
a) There is still confusion among voters. Which one is more important? Candidate vote or party vote.
b) Anger that a candidate who gets voted out by the electorate still manages to get to Parliament as a list MP – backdoor entry.
c) 120 members of parliament for 70 constituencies (general as well as maori) – an over representation of more than 70%.
What is interesting also to note here is that for the 2014 elections almost all parties – major as well as minor – had been pitching for party votes.
So the question now is what the relevance of electorate vote is? Some would argue, it gives direct representation of people, someone very much among the voters. It is interesting to note there are several elected representatives in Parliament who don’t reside in the electorate they represent. Yet they are able to remotely serve their constituency. Besides, should the representatives in the Parliament be working just for the constituency they represent or the entire country?
This brings us to two interesting facts. Firstly, on most occasions, elected representatives make decisions for the entire country. Second, elected representatives’ views on issues don’t really matter much. If the party has adopted a policy that is contradictory to the candidate’s views, it is the party policy that prevails in the parliament. Conscience vote is very rare.
With this in mind, it is time New Zealanders start considering if the MMP system could be made simpler. Yes it can be. How about proportional representation?
Proportional representation addresses the above concerns. Giving parties seats in proportion to the votes polled, voters need to analyse just the party’s policies. The actual possible representatives by the party is relevant only to the extent of knowing if the representatives are of calibre good enough to carry out the parties policies. There will be no duplication of representatives because they don’t represent any particular electorate but the entire country. This will also stop the practice of strategic voting that is even more confusing and encourages corrupt practices.
The current rule requiring any party to have polled a minimum of 5% of votes continues. This is likely to upset some minor parties who poll less than 5% and depend on electorate seats to have some representation. No system can be acceptable to all.
Proportional representation is not untested. It is currently in use in 21 west European countries including Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland with party list voting being the most popular (source: https://www.mtholyoke.edu/acad/polit/damy/BeginnningReading/PRsystems.htm).
It is time we New Zealanders started debating on our electoral system. Proportional representation will be more accurate, have less wastage and be simpler to use while retaining most of the benefits of MMP.