OPINION: As a politician and the father of a baseball-playing son, John Key knows what a curve ball looks like.
The review of MMP has delivered his Government a tricky one.
The Electoral Commission's well-researched proposals could see the Government having to choose between its current support partners, ACT and UnitedFuture, or bank on the Conservative Party coming through at the next elections.
The proposed dropping of the one electorate seat threshold effectively spells the end for parties like ACT and UnitedFuture. It means they can't bring in extra list colleagues by virtue of winning a solitary electorate seat.
It would also end fiascos such as that in Epsom last year as National sought to bolster its prospects by helping ACT win the electorate.
In its review paper, the commission said the one-seat threshold was the single biggest factor in public dissatisfaction with MMP.
Submitters to the commission highlighted the unfairness of the rule in the 2008 elections when ACT won 3.65 per cent of the party vote and gained four extra MPs because it won Epsom, whereas NZ First won 4.1 per cent of the vote and had no MPs.
A key criticism was that it gives voters in some electorates significantly more influence over the makeup of Parliament than voters in other electorates.
It's hard to see a coherent argument for retaining the one-seat rule, particularly when its removal is coupled with the proposal to lower the party vote threshold from 5 per cent to 4 per cent.
This should give smaller parties sufficient encouragement while requiring they still get a credible level of electoral support. Setting the threshold any lower runs the risk of Parliament fragmenting into an unworkable mess.
The Government has only said it will carefully consider the commission's proposals, but National has said it wants the party vote threshold to remain at 5 per cent and the one electorate seat rule retained.
The commission's final report will go to the Government by October 31.
Behind the scenes National will be wrestling with the dilemma of whether to cut loose ACT and UnitedFuture by supporting the commission proposals, or mount a defence of the unpopular one-seat threshold.
It's a difficult choice but with ACT and UnitedFuture showing few signs of life, the better bet seems to be the Conservatives, who gathered 2.65 per cent of the votes at the 2011 elections. Leader Colin Craig's campaign was well-funded, but had limited preparation, and his profile has lifted since.
A 4 per cent threshold would also give NZ First an easier path back to Parliament, and while leader Winston Peters is unpredictable, the party's neutral stance also in effect supports the governing bloc.
If it was possible for National to put its own prospects aside, the changes proposed by the Electoral Commission should improve how we choose our governments. It's a pity though that the commission was not asked to at least look at whether we need 120 MPs to run the place.
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