While democracy, in its purest form, entails people’s choice of representatives, the complexity of modern societies and political polarisation have tended to make the electoral process somewhat unfair. Rule by majority is the norm, but again, that rule can become questionable if the numbers do not add up to a fair level.
A party that gets 46% of the votes is indubitably the largest but the argument that 54% of the voting public did not vote for that party is also true. The ‘winner-takes-it-all’ does not work in most democracies, because, the opposition, which would comprise the remaining 54% can dismiss the government ruled by the party obtaining the highest number of votes.
FPTP in New Zealand
New Zealand followed the First-Past-The-Post system (FPTP) until 1996 since plurality of votes was in vogue. But the success of The Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) system in Germany appeared more advantageous and hence it was adopted as the best available option.
It worked well for a while but the experience of the Labour Government headed by Helen Clark (1999 to 2008) proved otherwise. It was tender, subject to vagaries of smaller parties and forever threatening.
The National Party, which swept to power in 2008, decided to test the public mood and accordingly decided to conduct a Referendum on December 10, 2011, about two-and-half months after it was voted back to office for a second term.
The Referendum and After
The results were decisive – 57.77% of the voters (totaling 1,267,955) were in favour of retaining the MMP system, while 42.33% (926,819) wanted a change. Of the latter, 704,117 voters (46.55%) preferred FPTP.
The problem is that only 78% of voters chose to participate in the Referendum, indicating that the decision to retain the MMP system may not be the majority view. Politicians and observers would argue that non-participants always forfeit the right to complain.
On the bright side, the MMP system of voting has been considered as a fair method that allows for representation of minor parties. It has also been hailed as a system that is more democratic and pragmatic of all other systems of voting, especially the FPTP.
However, almost a third of the democratic countries around the world practice follow the FPTP system of voting, the notable among whom are United Kingdom, United States of America, India and Canada.
Canada is considering MMP system because “it retains a majority of local MPs but reserves a certain number of seats to be used as top-ups on a regional basis to compensate for the disproportionalities of FPTP.”
Really? If so, that objective has not worked in New Zealand.