Why I'm thinking of not voting for MMP

20:00, Jun 09 2011

I voted for MMP in the early 90s mainly because, under First Past the Post, so many votes were wasted.  Most seats were safe, so votes for a losing candidate changed nothing, and nor did spare votes for a winning candidate.

Under MMP, every party vote helps to elect another representative. Every vote counts.

Under the old system, consecutive First Past the Post governments went badly off the rails. There was nothing you could do when MPs who later formed ACT took over Labour, and then National promised to get rid of them but behaved even worse.

First Past the Post was awful, but MMP's flaws have been worse than I hoped.

Party lists have mostly been rubbish, especially in the big parties.

Anonymous party officials have too much say and their party list choice are inadequately transparent even to members of their own parties.


There are too many MPs who can't win a marginal seat but cling on through the list because of their special skill at palace politics. There are too many talented candidates who are marginalised because their talent is a threat to time-serving insiders with more sway on the list committees.

Parliament is more diverse if you keep a score of ethnicity, gender and other outward characters; I'm not sure thinking within parties is more diverse. Having fresh or unconventional ideas is a good way to get bounced down the list.

When there are more locally elected representatives, there are more MPs who have room to speak and act independently. A little courageous independent thinking is a good thing.

Too many MPs get into Parliament despite their talent, rather than because of it. It's too hard to get rid of non-talents.

Even the best lists are riddled with decay. National's 2008 list, which brought in Steven Joyce and Tim Groser, also brought in Melissa Lee, who is a nice person but never had to speak to a room full of voters to win a place in Parliament. When she did, the results were bad. There are more examples coming this year and there is nothing you can do to stop it. You really want me to vote for a system that selects people who don't, and can't, win elections?

In a democracy it's a good thing that people who like the thinking of Hone Harawira or Roger Douglas have a representative to express their views. The downside is that you get Hone Harawira and Roger Douglas.

I like the idea that MPs should have to persuade a group of voters to get elected. One way to rehabilitate MMP would be to increase the number of electorate MPs, to around 90 or 95 out of 120.

Then, most major-party MPs would come in through electorate seats. Most list MPs would be from small parties, where competition for places is hotter and it's harder to hide non-performers.

The other thing we need to do is get rid of the messy two-ticks business. By the time of the 2015 election more people will have only ever voted under MMP than voted under First Past the Post. Yet unacceptably high numbers of people still don't understand how the two ticks work.

Separate votes for electorate and party votes invite cynicism and manipulation. Voters in Epsom should decide whether they want to vote for National, or vote for John Banks and in doing so help to bring in other ACT MPs. We should not have parties trying to figure out whether to stand, and instructing their own supporters to vote for another party. That's a circus.

No, what people want is to cast a vote for their preferred candidate. Parties will always mess around with their local selections, but at least gerrymandered candidates should have to prove some local electoral appeal. Really bad local candidates do lose their seats. Just ask Rodney Hide.

People who despise democracy are planning a big campaign against MMP later this year. They want to return to the days when governments could break promises with impunity. They want to buy government instead of winning it by winning a battle of ideas.

The way to deal with them is by supporting more democracy, not less. No one should ever choose an electoral system because they think it's the best way to produce the policy outcome they want; you should choose the system that best produces what the people want.

If MMP wins the referendum this year, there'll be a review. We're likely to get some fake reform, such as getting rid of the exemption that allows parties to bring in MPs by winning an electorate seat. That reform will make it harder, not easier, to make every local vote count.

If I had confidence MMP would be truly reformed I would vote for it. I'm weighing the alternative. If it's just worse versions of party lists, I'll give the alternatives a miss. If MMP's advocates are too opposed to reform, I'll pick another system. What I won't be picking is the status quo.

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