MMP: delivering for New Zealand?

Has New Zealand really got to grips with MMP? Does it better serve the people or politicians? Those questions are worth asking in light of last weekend's general election and the expected two-to-three-week wait while negotiations to form a government take place.

The MMP (mixed member proportional) voting system to elect Parliament was first used in 1996 after a final binding referendum in 1993 that endorsed the change from FPP (first past the post).

There are similarities this time with that first MMP election, in that New Zealand First leader Winston Peters (who had 13.4% of the party vote and won the then five Maori seats) was wooed by the two major parties, National (on 33.9%) and Labour (on 28.2%), to form a government.

Although predicted to go with Labour, NZ First eventually went into coalition with National, and gained the ''kingmaker'' moniker, which has stuck. The same scenario is playing out now, after National gained 46% of the party vote, and the Labour/Greens bloc (the parties had a memo of understanding and campaign centred on changing the government) of 41.7% (Labour 35.8%, Greens 5.9%).

More than 20 years after the adoption of MMP, however, New Zealanders could be forgiven for thinking the country still operates in a FPP environment. In the run-up to the election, leaders' debates were separated into major and minor parties (and some of those were not allowed to partake).

Post-election, many current and former politicians and commentators are claiming National has won and has a so-called ''moral majority'' or ''moral mandate'' to govern. And the implication is that any more than two parties is somehow anathema to strong and stable government.

It appears many still believe having a variety of views in government is bad. The discussion has been reduced to a debate over whether the overall numbers mean a vote for the status quo or for change.

The fact is, the numbers are reasonably close and are likely to further narrow with special votes. Labour won the (now) seven Maori seats and National is without two of its support partners - the Maori Party and United Future - both out of Parliament.

Those numbers show a society losing its minority voices. Is that reflective of a more centrist society or a system still geared towards FPP?

Certainly, the system is being partially abused. National and Act have benefited for some time from their Epsom deal. Does it really serve the best interests of New Zealand to have a party polling at 0.5% still in Parliament?

It does serve politicians. The Electoral Commission's recommendations of 2012 (among them to abolish the one electorate seat threshold and lower the party vote threshold from 5% to 4%) were ignored as parties could not reach a consensus.

And, in an MMP environment, is it really fair to leave New Zealanders in the dark about potential collaborations? Mr Peters has steadfastly refused to say with whom he will form a government, so it is impossible to know whether NZ First voters asked for change or the status quo.

Are voters winning here or politicians and dealmakers? Is the focus on policies and principles, or personalities and political futures?

Given the election campaign just witnessed, comprised of lies and U-turns, revelations and resignations, is there any party left standing that can claim a ''moral'' majority?

In the meantime, the country remains in the dark.

Whatever the ''decisions'', one thing is certain: a large proportion of the population is guaranteed to be unhappy with what is delivered to them in a few weeks' time.

MMP - you have got to love it!


 

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