Referendum riddle


Why would the Maori electorates vote so strongly in favour of MMP ?

The Maori Electorates were massive MMP supporters (Te Tai Tonga at 78.9% for keep, the only one below 80% support);

FPP, PV and SM would have given them several more Maori electorates – 12 with FPP and PV and 9 with SM rather than 7 under MMP.



MMP campaigner Philip Temple has found 20 writers who support that electoral system:

As support continues to grow for keeping MMP in the referendum on November 26, a group of top New Zealand writers have added their voice to the campaign.

Author Philip Temple, a spokesperson for the Keep MMP Campaign, says “It is brilliant that so many of our best known and loved authors have been willing to support the campaign to keep MMP. . .”

Twenty writers, 21 if you count Temple too, support MMP – so?

They are entitled to their view and to campaign in support of it but 21 writers supporting MMP is no more than a media opportunity, whether or not they’re best known and loved.

It probably wouldn’t be hard to find 21 people in any other occupation group across the country who support that electoral system nor to find a group of 21 who don’t.

They might not be so well known as the writers but being well known doesn’t make their opinions on the electoral system any more valid than those of people who aren’t public names or faces.

MMP, like all the alternative systems from which we’ll be able to choose in the referendum, is not perfect. There are valid arguments for and against it and the other four – First Past the Post, Preferential Vote,  Single Transferable Vote and Supplementary Member.

Finding 21 people who happen to do the same thing in support of or against one of them doesn’t make it any better or worse and is neither an argument for or against supporting a particular option.

Voters should be considering how each system works and which is more likely to give them the sort of government they want, not whether or not a system has a fan club of people from this occupation group or that.

I will be voting for change because MMP’s shortcomings outweigh its advantages for me and “celebrity” endorsement of that system isn’t going to make it any better.

Vote for FPP won’t get change


Polls suggest that the status quo will be chosen by most people who vote in the referendum on MMP.

They also show the alternative which gets most support is FPP.

iPredict has the probability of retaining MMP varying from 70 – 90%.

But even if a majority vote for change in the referendum I don’t think FPP would stand a chance in the second referendum against MMP in 2014 and the chances of another system getting majority support aren’t high.

The majority of organisations registered with the Electoral Commission to campaign on the issue are supporters of MMP – including the Green and Labour parties and several unions.

Most people don’t know enough about the alternatives except FPP to be keen on one and there is no campaign – at least yet – for any other option.

Next month’s referendum will be the last chance to get a different electoral system for decades unless a majority vote for change. But unless there’s a lot more effort put into educating voters about the options and promoting an alternative to both MMP and FPP, we’re likely to be stuck with what we’ve got.




25/25 in the Electoral Commission’s quiz on the different electoral options we’ll be choosing form in the November referendum.

The tool kit also asks questions on how important you consider accountability, effective government, effective parliament, proportionality and representation. Your answers indicate which system best suits your preference.

My answers left me to choose between First Past the Post, Preferential Voting and Supplementary Member, all of which give more and therefore small electorates than Mixed Member Proportional or Single Transferable Vote.

FPP govt & MMP opposition


Successive polls are showing support for an FPP government and an MMP opposition.

This is a result of a very popular Prime Minister leading a stable and cohesive National Party in contrast to the instability and multi-factional Labour Party.

Unfortunately it would be most unusual for National’s support to stay above 50% on polling day

But could it be the polls are signalling people want a bit more certainty in government than multi-party coalitions provide but don’t mind variety in opposition where parties have far less power?

Don’t let the numbers get in the way of a campaign


The pro MMP  poster at No Right Turn says I’d rather live in a democracy with 120 MPs than a dictatorship with 99.

I’ll ignore the debate on whether MMP really is any more democratic than other electoral systems and stick with the numbers.

If we still had FPP we wouldn’t yet have 120 MPs but we’d have more than 99 unless the formula for setting electoral boundaries had changed.

The number of electorate seats keeps increasing under MMP and they would have under FPP too. 

The number of South Island seats was fixed under FPP and still is with MMP. Under both systems the South Island population is divided by that fixed number of seats and that figure is used to determine how many people will be in each electorate in both islands, plus or minus 5%.

The North Island population grows faster than that of the South so every six years when electorate boundaries are calculated we get another seat or two.

Had we still had FPP we’d be approaching 110 MPs.

This formula is why MMP will eventually stop working as it’s intended to. Each time an electorate seat is added a list seat is subtracted. We started with 65 electorate seats (60 general and 5 Maori) and 55 list seats in 1996. Now there are 70 electorate and 52 list seats (an overhang of two).

Unless there’s an increase in the total number of seats in parliament we’ll get to a stage where the number of list seats is so small proportionality will be lost.

The alternative is to reduce the number of South Island electorates but the big rural electorates in both islands already cover far too big an area.

Whatever the referendum result, there will have to be changes eventually and the price of maintaining proportionality might be more MPs – electorate and list.

How best to vote on voting


I hope discussions on the referendum on MMP take very careful note of not just what choices voters will be presented with but how we will be able to choose.

In 1992 the options were the then status quo of First Past the Post (FPP), or a change to a more proportional system with four options: Mixed member Proportional (MMP), Preferential Voting (PV) Single Transferable Vote or Supplementary Member (SM).

The result was decisive:

First stage



Second stage



Change the voting system



Retain FPTP



Retain FPTP



Supplementary Member (SM)






Single Transferable Vote (STV)












Preferential Vote (PV)



The number of people who voted for MMP was greater than the total of those who voted for all other options so even if a preferential system of voting had been used it’s possible MMP would still have won.

But whether that was because people really understood and wanted that system or just wanted to send MPs a message is a moot point.

Anecdotal evidence points to a lot of people voting against MPs rather than for MMP oblivious to the fact that the change to that system resulted in more MPs.

Dissatisfaction at the tail wagging antics of minor parties led to dissatisfaction with the system and had a referendum been held earlier it would almost certainly have gone against MMP.

Now the system has matured dissatisfaction has decreased, helped somewhat by the way National embraced the Maori Party when it didn’t need to and the popularity of John Key.

However, I still don’t like MMP.

It gives too much power to parties when membership is low. The last public figures I saw put National membership at more than 40,000. Chris Trotter reckons Labour has only 5,000 members. The Maori Party claims 10,000 members, two of the parties in parliament are really just one-man vanity vehicles and they like the other wee parties probably have few if any more than the 500 minimum required for registration.

It allows small parties to wield power far out of proportion to their membership and voter support.

It allows unprincipled MPs to take and cling to the baubles of office.

 It enables MPs to stay in parliament when they’ve been rejected by voters.

It has created electorates which are far too big – and this problem will increase unless the population growth imbalance between Auckland and the South Island changes.

A change in the voting system is an important constitutional matter and  I’d have preferred a Royal Commission to look at the options before we have a referendum.

That isn’t going to happen so there will need to be a lot of education if we’re going to be able to vote intelligently. 

I’d also like a discussion on how we vote on how we vote. 

Last time it turned in to a two horse race between FPP and MMP, mostly because those were the systems which got the most publicity.

These are still the systems most people know most about, although  younger voters will have only known MMP for central government elections.

If we’re given as many choices this time as we were in 1992, and it’s not going to be another two-horse race, a system which enables us to rank our preferences might be a better way to vote than one which lets us tick just one.

Update: Adolf discusses the issue at No Minister.

Not PC asks To MMP or not to?

MMP makes it harder to vote ’em out


One of the strengths of the First Past the Post voting system was the ability to get rid of unpopular politicians and governments.

It is much harder to do that under MMP.

A candidate can lose a seat but still get back into parliament on the list.

A party could lose a lot of support, it might not have the most seats in parliament but it could still cobble together a coalition and carry on leading a government.

A survey last week showed a majority of people thought the party which had the most support should lead the next government.

That didn’t always happen under FPP where at least twice National won more seats but fewer votes than Labour and it doesn’t have to happen under MMP.

A government could be formed by the silver and bronze medalists and some also-rans. Some people think that’s okay and if all those parties can bargain their way to a mix that gives them a total of more than 50% of the seats they’ll be right.

New Zealand is one of the oldest democracies in the world so whatever happens next Saturday, like it or not, we’ll accept it.

But if the result is seen as unfair it will help those of us who want to put MMP to a referendum because one of that system’s big weaknesses is that it ‘s much more difficult to vote an unpopular government out.

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