First Past the Post to Mixed Member Proportional Essay

Published: 2020-04-22 15:24:05
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A change in New Zealands voting system last occurred in 1996, after a binding referendum in 1993 resulted in the change from First Past the Post (FPP) to Mixed Member Proportional (MMP). In November of this year, New Zealanders will head to the polls once more, this time wondering whether to retain MMP, modify it or significantly change it. This essay will evaluate whether electoral systems can produce effective (and decisive) government, or representative government, but not both.

The electoral system, FPP, MMP, effective government and representative government will be discussed and discover how, despite fears that government would be slowed down and disrupted with the introduction of MMP, the last few years have shown that a MMP coalition government can be effective, decisive and representative. Firstly, what is an electoral system? Harrop & Miller (1990, pg. 41) state that an electoral system is a set of rules for conducting an election.

These sets of rules are needed to detail who is eligible to vote, how they will vote, who they will be voting for and how the votes are counted to get the end result and numerous other aspects of the electoral system (Harrop & Miller, 1993). There are many reasons why electoral systems are so important. Firstly, any country that wishes to be called democratic is said to have free and fair elections. Secondly, elections are important for the stability of a political system because without elections public opinion could, as witnessed in other countries, be expressed through riot and disorder (Wood & Rudd, 2004).

An example of this is the political and economic unrest in Greece, where the Prime Minister could not muster the support of the people or even his own Pasok socialist party (Kissane, 2011). Elections are vital links between citizens and their government and election outcomes affect public policy, which in turn affects the citizens of that country. FPP was the electoral system in New Zealand until 1996 when MMP was introduced after being selected by the public as the preferred voting system in a 1993 referendum.

FPP is the simplest form of plurality/majority electoral systems. The winning candidate is the one who gains the most votes compared with the other candidates, even if this is not the majority of overall total valid votes (Reynolds & International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, 2005). However, FFP proved to misrepresent New Zealand voters choices when electing a government. Labour received the majority of the vote in both the 1978 and 1981 elections although still lost the election to National due to National having the most votes overall.

Equally as alarming, the third highest voted party, Social Credit, received 21 percent of the total vote but was only allocated two seats in a 92 seat capacity Parliament. It was clear FPP had a tendency to exclude smaller parties and minorities from fair representation. These results prompted a Labour led government to establish the Royal Commission of Electoral Systems in 1985. The commission recommended the 1993 referendum in which MMP was voted as the preferred electoral system by New Zealanders by 54% to 46% (Elections New Zealand, n. d).

The 1996 election saw New Zealanders receive two votes for the very first time; one for the party vote and one for the electoral candidate. The number of seats in Parliament was increased from 92 to 120, which included 70 electoral seats and 50 member seats. New Zealand currently has 121 seats in Parliament (initially it was 122 but one MP resigned). This is due to what is called an overhang when a party is entitled to a number of seats based on its share of the total vote. One of the advantages MMP brought to New Zealands electoral system was that it created a fair and more representative Parliament.

It better reflected the choices of New Zealanders by properly allocating votes through electoral seats and the rest through party seats. In addition, a threshold was set, that each party would have to capture at least five percent of total votes to be able to enter Parliament. For example, since the introduction of MMP the Maori electorate roll increased considerably, so that it now represents seven seats in parliament compared with four seats under FPP (Elections New Zealand, n. d). In addition to increased Maori representation, there are now more women in Parliament (37 currently) than in the years before MMP was introduced.

MMP has also led to a greater representation of other minority groups. For example, six Asian Members of Parliament were elected in the last election which corresponds to around 404,400 Asian New Zealanders (Statistics New Zealand, 2006). MMP provides minorities with the voice other systems often fail to do. Some, however, argue that MMP gives too much power to smaller parties (Newman, 2010). This was evident in the 1996 general election, the first under MMP, where National received around a third of the vote and Labour a little less. Both parties then had to negotiate a possible coalition with NZ First who came third in the voting.

This effectively made NZ First a kingmaker, as their choice of partner would decide the next government. The minority party took nine weeks to weigh up their options, make their decision and form a coalition with National. Understandably, this upset many voters, causing them to lose faith in MMP as they felt it gave too much power to the minor parties. The introduction of a new electoral voting system was always going to have teething problems, and to many the idea of a minor party deciding the government was unsettling. However, things were to improve. In the next four elections the longest it took to form the government was four weeks.

In the 2008 election it took only 11 days to reach an agreement between the National and coalition parties (Eichbaum, 2011). The numbers show that, as the years went by, the parties ability to negotiate the creation of government with each other has drastically improved as politicians and voters alike began to get to grips with MMP. The passing of legislation can often be slower or can become gridlocked with MMP due to favourable agreements being sought from coalition parties. Also, the resulting legislation may differ slightly to the original documents due to some compromising that may be required (Boston et al, 2003).

However, during the current Governments term in office, Parliament has passed a record number of bills, even with National, ACT, Maori Party and United Future all collaborating. Furthermore, there was no hesitation in making or passing any bills through parliament after earthquakes hit Christchurch. The creation of new legislation is, therefore, also much more representative of the electorate than under FFP when a single party could pass legislature without any checks from other parties (Boston et al, 2003).

Not only is government becoming increasingly effective, but there is also a greater degree of consultation happening between various parties in an MMP parliament. One consequence of MMP has been that in 1996, 1999 and 2002 no single party won more than half the seats in Parliament. In 1993 The National Party won 44 of 120 seats, in 1999 Labour won 49 seats and in 2002 Labour won 52 seats. However, Boston et al. suggest that since moving to MMP New Zealand has not suffered any significant loss of government effectiveness (Boston et al. 2003).

In fact, all governments elected under MMP had their budgets passed without too much difficultly and, so far, none have faced the likelihood of defeat in a parliamentary vote of no confidence (Reynolds & International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, 2005). New Zealand has now had time to adjust to life under a coalition government and, from the various examples above; we can see that there is confirmation that the statement electoral systems (MMP in this case) can produce effective and decisive government or representative government but not both is incorrect.

New Zealand has not suffered any loss of effectiveness and it is a very representative government, with minorities being represented. Initial fears that MMP would result in minor parties having too much power, thus reducing the effectiveness of government have been ill-founded. Increased consultation with coalition parties hasnt slowed down the legislative procedures. Instead what we can now see is a government more representative of the nation than ever before. Today more people have a voice in an effective government. MMP appears to reflect the opinions of a nation much more fairly than under FPP, thus making the country more democratic.

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