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.
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