Democratic ideas entail sanctity of suffrage

General Election 2017

First in a series of Six Parts

Venkat Raman

It isn’t every day that people face an election.

It isn’t every day that ordinary people are considered the most important entities in the country.

It isn’t every day that we can make politicians and lawmakers listen to us and make them answerable to their acts of omission and commission.

It isn’t every day that we get an opportunity to change the course of our country’s destiny.

It isn’t every day that we realise how important we are, however unimportant we may consider ourselves to be.

Democracy is a funny thing. It puts power in people.

How that power is used or misused is entirely up to those who hold it.

And a general election is an occasion to be decisive.

It is also an occasion to be responsible.

And no matter who you are or where you come from, you must cast your vote, if you are eligible to do so.

This is not a privilege but a duty and a right.

And the right to criticise comes only after we discharge our duty.

Clean, fair and open

New Zealanders are extremely fortunate in that they live in a country where freedom of expression is guaranteed as a sacred necessity of life itself. True to what the late Sir Winston Churchill believed, “Politics is not a game; it is an earnest business.” Be it a minister of the Crown or a backbencher in the debating chamber, Parliamentarians in New Zealand understand and appreciate the fact that they are constantly under media and public scrutiny and that there is no compromise over their integrity and honesty.

New Zealand can be proud of its rich parliamentary heritage and disciplined behaviour of elected representatives, although they are allowed to conduct heated exchange of opinions to express their Party’s point of view.

Electoral Commission

The Electoral Commission, which is responsible for conducting general elections and by-elections, is known for its fairness and transparency.

The Electoral Commission conducts the general election once in three years, on a day determined by the Prime Minister, similar to the system followed in the United Kingdom.

A single election day throughout New Zealand was not introduced until 1881. Even then, elections in general (European) and Maori seats were held on different days until 1951.

Elections were organised locally, and each returning officer was usually responsible for several electorates.

Therefore, elections were staggered over weeks or even months.

The first parliamentary elections in 1853 began on July 14 (in the Bay of Islands) and ended on October 1 in Otago.

There were only 24 electorates, but some of them returned two or three members, and hence 37 representatives were elected.

The first Parliament met in May 1854 in Auckland, which was the Capital of New Zealand until 1865.

Franchise for Women

When Governor Lord Glasgow (David Boyle, the 7th Earl of Glasgow) signed the Electoral Act into law on September 19, 1893, New Zealand became the first country in the world to grant women the right to vote in parliamentary elections.

It was not until after the end of World War Two that Britain and United States of America enfranchised women. India, regarded as the largest democracy in the world, adopted Parliamentary system of governance after independence on August 15, 1947.

Parliament Today

Citizens and Permanent Residents who are aged 18 years and over must enroll at the Electoral Commission to vote. Voting is not compulsory.

New Zealand has a single Chamber of Parliament which consists of the House of Representatives, which generally has 120 MPs, and the Governor-General (who does not personally attend the House).

The House is elected for a maximum three-year term using the Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) system. This means the proportion of votes a Party gets will largely reflect the number of seats it has in parliament.

Each voter gets two votes.

The first vote is for the political party the voter chooses. This is called the Party Vote and largely decides the total number of seats each political party gets in Parliament.

The second vote is to choose the MP the voter wants to represent the electorate they live in. This is called the electorate vote. The candidate who gets the most votes wins. They do not have to get more than half the votes.

Under current MMP rules, a political party that wins at least one electorate seat or 5% of the party vote gets a share of the seats in Parliament that is about the same as its share of the party vote.

For example, if a party gets 30% of the party vote it will get roughly 36 MPs in Parliament (being 30% of 120 seats). So, if that party wins 20 electorate seats, it will have 16 List MPs in addition to its 20 Electorate MPs.

Coalitions or agreements between political parties are usually needed before Governments can be formed.

An electorate is a voting district for parliamentary elections in New Zealand. There are two types of electorates: General and Maori.

General Election 2017

You can vote from Monday September 11, to Friday September 22, 2017 at any advance voting place. You can also enrol, check or update your details at the same time.

On election day, Saturday September 23, 2017, all voting places will be open from 9 am to 7 pm. You must be enrolled by Friday September 22, 2017.

Information about where and when to vote, and who you can vote for, will be available from Wednesday August 30, 2017 at www.elections.org.nz or by calling 0800-367656.

Brought to you by the Electoral Commission.

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