MMP debate fails to excite New Zealanders

Admittedly, Rugby player Sonny Bill’s bicep has more water-cooler appeal than a bunch of acronyms and voting system technicalities, but thus far the Mixed member Proportional (MMP) electoral system debate has been a disappointing whimper.

We will be asked to vote on November 26, 2011 whether we want to keep MMP as New Zealand’s voting system, and which of four other systems we would choose if New Zealand were to change to another system.

There are many factors to consider when choosing which voting system would be the best. We need to consider how the systems would provide for accountability between voters and the government, how they would provide representation, how stable and effective the governments, which they would produce would be, whether their outcomes would be legitimate and whether they would produce a healthy opposition.

After assessing all the systems on offer and considering where we think the balance of those factors should lie, we believe that the best system for New Zealand is Supplementary Member (SM).

SM is a bit like MMP in that every voter would cast two votes, one for a Party and one for an electorate MP.

But unlike in MMP where the party vote dominates and determines the make-up of all of Parliament, SM would determine only the allocation of one quarter of the seats. Ninety MPs would be elected directly from electorates and 30 MPs would come from the Lists of Parties.

Electorate representation is an important part of how accountability works in democracy. In emphasising electorate representation more than MMP does,

SM allows for a greater relational link between the people who fill Parliament and the people whom they are serving in local communities.

This also would help provide direct accountability between MPs and voters.

Under SM there is still a degree of representation of national interest groups through the 30 list seats; but that representation would be lessened.

SM would generally lead to different types of government than MMP does; it is more likely to lead to one party having a majority of seats and being able to form government without relying on the support of minor parties.

This admittedly can have the drawback of governments being able to push through laws without much deliberation or compromise, but it also has the benefit of providing governments that can do what they promised and make laws that are in everyone’s interests and not the interests of a few.

When all the factors that make for a good voting system are weighed up, SM strikes the best balance.

However we also acknowledge that there are some ways that MMP could be improved. We have released two new papers that explore these issues.

The first paper, “A Better Mix,” looks at why SM is the best voting system for New Zealand, while the second paper, “Enhancing MMP,” looks at five ways that MMP could be improved.

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