Monday, September 22, 2008

The Proportional Representation Fallacy

MMP is supposedly a proportional representation system of Government. Supposedly we elect a Government that is proportionally representative of the views in society. So explain to me why the Government is made up of Labour, the Progressives, the Greens, United Future and New Zealand First?

According to official election results the National Party received 39% of the vote. Note: I am not singling out the 2005 election for any partisan reasons, and the National Party did the same thing previously). Instead of a Government being formed in proportion to the wishes of the people, the party with the largest number of votes stitched together agreements with "minority" parties to get over a 50% threshold in order to govern. This effectively relegated the wishes of those who voted for ACT, the Maori Party and National to the opposition benches. Clearly the wishes of the people were not listened to.

This has resulted, as I have pointed out previously, in a situation where we have the minority parties setting an agenda out of proportion to the views they represent in society. We can have a party that represents the views of only 5% of the population, getting support for legislation, when a party that has 39% support does not get to put forward policies it had in its manifesto. This is the phenomenon of "the tail wagging the dog".

Hopefully this immoral and unrepresentative electoral system will be overturned. Given the level of disenchantment I hear from people I associate with I think a referendum would show people support ditching the system.

However, I suspect that if the final decision is left to the politicians then they are not going to back the majority view of the people, but will try to make the system more palatable. The corporations they work for (i.e. the political parties - they are just businesses in my view) are not going to want to lose their grip on power.

Here are some suggestions for how MMP could be made more palatable:
  1. Axe it (well as I said that is about as likely as hell freezing over)
  2. Abolish the Westminster Parliamentary System (chances about the same as MMP being abolished)
  3. Change the percentage requirement for a vote to pass in Parliament from 50% to 75%
If the threshold for a vote to pass in Parliament was increased from 50% to 75% then the major political parties would have to be more accommodating of each other (the idea of the Grand Coalition). Immediately following a general election those parties that represent the majority views of the people would have to work out a way to work together on issues, and establish a much more collaborative approach. The political minorities would be relegated to supporting or opposing legislation in proportion to their representation in society.

The Electoral Commission needs to look into this. If the threshold is raised to 75% then the matter of how an election is run, first past the post or some form of proportional representation, is largely irrelevant. 50% is too low a threshold for making decisions with regard to a country.