When New Zealanders vote this year, they would also be required to decide on the Electoral System.
The Electoral Commission has announced that a Referendum will be held in two parts. The first Part would ask if the current Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) should be retained as an electoral system. The second part would be optional, asking us to choose alternative voting systems.
Under the current system, each voter has two votes: one for their preferred Party and another for their preferred electorate MP.
The New Zealand Parliament comprises 60 Electorate MPs and 60 MPs selected by each party on its List. The Party List vote ensures that the number of seats secured by each Party matches the percentage of people who voted for that Party.
The MMP System is fairer because every vote counts.
Under the previous First-Past-the-Post (FPP) System, those who lived in safe National or Labour seat would not be able to affect the outcome of the election.
The focus of the election campaign was on the few marginal seats, which would decide the winner.
This meant policies developed by Parties were designed to appeal to voters in marginal seats, rather than for the benefit of the country as a whole.
Another disadvantage of FPP was that it was unfair. In 1981, the Social Credit Party achieved 21% of the votes across the country, but this resulted in only two seats in Parliament. Surely, the views of 21% of the population should have been respected and reflected in the make-up of Parliament.
In contrast, MMP has the advantage of ensuring that Parliament reflects more closely the demographic make-up of the country.
Under MMP, we have seen a much higher number of women MPs and MPs from minority communities. Political parties are careful in selecting candidates who represent not only geographical electorates but also demographic groupings.
Greater diversity in Parliament ensures that a wider variety of perspectives are heard as part of the decision-making process.
The proposed alternatives in the Referendum undermine the proportional nature of our voting system. What we are offered is a return to FPP.
The preferred system of Act Leader Don Brash and the National Party is ‘Supplementary Member (SM) System, under which, there would be 90 Electorate seats elected under FPP, with a winner’s bonus from the 30 seats allocated from the Party vote.
The Social Credit Party had 2% of the seats under FPP and 7% under SM.
However, they would get 21% of the seats under MMP.
MMP respects the choices of the voter. This means fewer wasted votes and a Parliament that reflects the choice of voters.
Italy uses a form of SM, with the FPP system for electorate seats and the ranking system of ‘Single Transferable Vote’ (STV) for the remaining 25% of seats.
Under the SM system, the Silvio Berlusconi Coalition Government in Italy was able to secure 55% of the seats though they only had 47% of the vote. The Coalition did not have the confidence of the majority (53% of voters) but was still able to govern.
Under MMP, we can be assured of majority representation, irrespective of which coalition forms the Government.
We can also be assured of the voices of our communities heard, and concerns taken seriously by political parties.
Minority communities will lose this important aspect of representation if MMP is replaced, as none of the other systems is directly proportional.
This is something we need to think about if we want our communities to have the current level of access to Parliament and Government.
Anjum Rahman is a practising Chartered Accountant and Labour Party Member based in Hamilton.