Should List MPs be able to stand in by-elections?

Last updated 10:52 06/03/2012

The second issue being reviewed by the Electoral Commission is that of whether or not List MPs should be able to stand in by-elections.

This is an issue because if someone who is already a Member of Parliament wins a by-election, it means that (presuming they resign as a List MP before being gazetted as an Electorate MP) the next person on that party's list will enter Parliament as a result of the by-election.

As usual, I like to start by looking at the actual history under MMP. Since 1996 we have had six by-election.

In the 1998 Taranaki-King Country by-election the ACT candidate was Owen Jennings who came second. If Jennings had won, then Anne Dill, the number nine candidate on the ACT list would have entered Parliament.

The 2004 Te Tai Hauarau had no List MPs as candidates.

The 2009 Mt Albert by-election had three List MPs standing - Melissa Lee from National, John Boscawen from ACT and Russel Norman from the Greens.

If any of them had won the seat, then the new MP would actually have been National's Cam Calder, ACT's Hilary Calvert or the Greens' David Clendon. Infamously Labour List MP Phil Twyford initially sought the Labour nomination but pulled out after attention was drawn to the fact that if he won, then the new Labour MP would in fact be Judith Tizard, who had been dumped at the last election. 

The 2010 Mana by-election was contested by National List MP Hekia Parata. If she had won, the new MP would have been Conway Powell of Dunedin.

The 2011 Botany by-election had no List MPs as candidates.

The 2011 Te Tai Tokerau by-election was contested by Labour List MP Kelvin Davis. If he had won, Judith Tizard would have been offered the vacant list seat. She had indicated by then that she would refuse (as she did when Darren Hughes resigned) and the new List MP may have been Lesley Soper from Invercargill (assuming all those who refused the Hughes vacancy refused this one also). 

So the issue is far from academic. It arises often in by-election. From a party's point of view, it makes sense to stand a List MP. They already will have greater profile than a new candidate. They have parliamentary resources to support them in the by-election campaign. They are more likely to be able to stand up to the scrutiny of a by-election.

However I am firmly of the view that List MPs should not be able to stand in by-elections. I think the results of elections should be transparent, and someone from Dunedin should not suddenly become a List MP because of how the voters in Mana voted. The average voter won't get to grips with the details of how a list MP becoming an electorate MP means a new List MP enters Parliament, and won't be making an informed vote.

Jim Anderton put up a members' bill to ban List MPs from by-elections, and it is one of his few initiatives I agree with. If a List MP wishes to stand in a by-election, then they should be required to resign their seat as a List MP, in order for their nomination to be accepted. The results of a by-election should always be that the winner is the one entering Parliament, not someone down on the lower reaches of a party list.

A related issue with by-elections, but not one explicitly being reviewed, is whether a by-election should be able to change the proportionality of Parliament as determined at the last election. 

Anyway, do readers think List MPs should be able to contest by-elections, or do you think they should have to resign as a List MP in order to stand in a by-election? 

David Farrar is a centre-right blogger affiliated to the National Party. His disclosure statement is here.

40 comments
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Covlin   #1   11:15 am Mar 06 2012

Scenario: If say Nikki Kaye resigned from Auckland Central this term, I don't think it would be right that Jacinda Adern had to resign her List MP seat to stand in the by-election.

Jack   #2   11:27 am Mar 06 2012

Although many haven't noticed, this is in essence exactly the same issue as the dual candidacy issue. If dual candidacy is banned, then list MPs should have to resign their seat to contest a by-election. If not, they shouldn't. I support dual candidacy, so I support list MPs having the right to contest by-elections.

Alan_Wilkinson   #3   11:30 am Mar 06 2012

"If a List MP wishes to stand in a by-election, then they should be required to resign their seat as a List MP, in order for their nomination to be accepted."

What on earth is the point of this? It still means the vacated list seat will be filled from the next person on the general election list - just as would happen if a List MP died.

You are tilting at a windmill. Go find something real to worry about.

Graeme Edgeler   #4   11:36 am Mar 06 2012

1. Electorate MPs can stand in by-elections, so why not list?

2. I support the ban if we also ban MPs from running as both electorate candidates and list candidates. To me, the two are closely linked.

Hekia Parata was National's candidate for Mana in 2008, and was going to be National's candidate for Mana in 2011. It is unfair not only to her, but also the people of Mana, to ask them to consider voting for someone other than National's effective shadow electorate MP. She had been attempting to build a rapport with them, and they with her. As a list MP operating out of Mana, she went to meetings, probably wrote columns for the community papers, met constituents, and would continue to do this after the by-election and after the general election. Mucking this up because of Judith Tizard is stupid, and perhaps even somewhat undemocratic (the people should get to choose between the best candidates possible, especially when they're going to run again at the general election).

Are you seriously suggesting that if National wanted to run their best candidate in the Mana by-election, the people of Mana should lost access to a hard-working shadow electorate MP for 18 months (or however long it was), only to get than back after the next general election?

And while candidates are allowed to both be on the list, and run in electorates, situations like this will arise.

3. If you're concerned about the Judith Tizard effect, ban that. If a list MP wins a by-election, they become the electorate MP and aren't replaced as a list MP, and Parliament remains one down for the rest of the term. If a party really really does want a replacement list MP, they'll get one only if the list MP resigns to run before nomination day.

Rolly Atreides   #5   12:13 pm Mar 06 2012

I disagree. If A narrowly lost the electorate vote to B in the general election but got in on the list, then if there is a by-election because B got run over by a bus, why should A not be allowed to stand? Chances are, they would be a more popular choice than random C and D. Let the electorates decide who they want - and part of the campaigning process can be educating them about the implications of their decision.

Plus I don't see how some other solution works better - e.g. if you force A to resign as a list MP before standing, then you get the next from the list in anyway (I think?) and then if A wins it's exactly the same result. And if A loses you've just swapped them out for the next person on the list - no real benefit to anyone except that person.

Ben   #6   12:16 pm Mar 06 2012

So if a sitting list MP has the courage (sounds of laughter) to resign before standing in a by-election we the electorate still get lumbered with a dead beat from the lower reaches of the party list who replaces the resigning member.

All this discusion is doing is reinforcing the stupidity of those who voted to retain MMP.

David Farrar   #7   12:30 pm Mar 06 2012

Alan: The next on the list becomes an MP regardless of the result of the election. It means that all the election does is determine who becomes the MP for that electorate.

Graeme: The solution is not perfect, but I don't think Conway Powell from Dunedin should become an MP if National wins the Mana by-election.

Alan_Wilkinson   #8   12:57 pm Mar 06 2012

David #7, so you are worried that an electorate result has multiple effects?

Why should this worry you in a by-election when apparently it doesn't in a general election? The only difference is that the effect is known to voters ahead of time in the by-election, but surely this is a good thing and enables them to cast a more informed vote?

Ben   #9   01:37 pm Mar 06 2012

DF #7: so what is the point of requiring a list MP to resign before standing in a by election if we are still going to get one of the cast offs from down the bottom of the list? What we want is new talent in parliament and the best way of getting that is by electing someone from outside parliament. The system at the moment is a rort alowing a clique to ride the gravy train in perpetuity.

A simpler solution is to say that a list MP cannot stand in a by-election; full stop. Thus the only way we get a replacement from the list is death (although many of the list members already fulfil this criterion) or the list member deciding to resign and leave parliament.

Graeme Edgeler   #10   01:50 pm Mar 06 2012

@David #7 "Graeme: The solution is not perfect, but I don't think Conway Powell from Dunedin should become an MP if National wins the Mana by-election."

So you're proposing that he should become an MP whether National wins it or loses it, because Hekia had to resign as a list MP to run?

If that is your problem, your solution is Point 3 in my comment: Where a sitting list MP wins a by-election, the size of Parliament is reduced by one for the remainder of the term, and the list spot is left unfilled.


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