No Minister

MMP has failed: Electoral system needs revisiting

As at today, it is easy to confidently assert that there will only be four parties in our parliament following this election: National, Labour, Act and the Greens.  If this is the result, then I think the government following the election should urgently revisit the MMP electoral system.  Because if this is the result, it is an explicit failure of MMP.

For those of us long enough in the tooth, MMP was introduced in 1996 following a perceived failure of representation that FPP permitted.  Pre-1996, FPP favoured the two-party dominance of National and Labour and smaller parties found it hard to gain representation.The common example used in the lead-up the referendum in 1993 was Social Credit.

Social Credit gained 16% of the vote in 1978 and 21% in 1981, yet it won only one and two seats, respectively.  MMP was meant to change that unfairness.  And initially it did.  In 1996, six parties were in the parliament. 1996 results

Encouragingly, there were 16 parties outside of parliament still registered.

1996 non-parliamentary parties

Moving forward to 2005, the comparisons were 8 inside parliament, and 11 outside.  It was from 2011 onwards, where these figures became distorted.  By then, it was becoming clear that, despite eight parties being elected, parties outside of parliament were reducing, evidencing the fact that entry into parliament was becoming more difficult – the complete opposite to what we were promised when MMP was introduced.

2011 election

2011 non-parliamentary parties

Fast forward to 2017, and the situation becomes more bleak – five parties in parliament, and two lost to parliament.  The number of parties outside parliament registered to compete the election increased, and included powerhouse political organisations such as Ban 1080, Internet Party and the Outdoors Party.

2017 election

2017 election outside

So, we’ve gone from six parties represented in parliament in 1996, through to probably four this year, and almost certainly no chance for any other party to enter.  If you think I’m wrong, here’s the list of the remainders for you to choose from.  I welcome a debate on the likelihood of any of these entering parliament this year.  Of those who contested the 2017 election, the total party votes of those parties in 2017 was 4.1% from a total of 7 parties.

2020 outside parties

As I’ve argued before, this year’s election will be a drag race between Labour/Greens and National/Act, with the possibility of a hung parliament.  It is highly likely we won’t have the splitting vote of a Maori Party or NZ First, making it more difficult to pick a winner from the blocs.  Regardless, the fact we will have just four parties there means, surely, that MMP has failed.  Here’s what I think should happen from a legislative point of view to try an even up the playing field:

  1. The Broadcasting Act allocations must go immediately.  I cannot think of a better example of a restriction of freedom of expression in a functioning democracy than this.
  2. The Electoral Finance Act needs to be scrapped and re-written.
  3. The 5% threshold needs to reduce to 3%.
  4. The minimum number of voters required to join a party before it can be registered should be reduced to 250, rather than 500.

These changes would go some way to allow minor parties to compete with the larger parties.  If we were to go further, there could be no limit on political donations, and no limit on spending.  Jami-Lee Ross is parading around the country calling for an end to “big money” in politics, yet I argue the smaller parties need this “big money” just to be able to compete at all with National and Labour.  Without “big money”, MMP will never succeed like it was meant to.

Do I expect the main parties to be concerned about this?  Not at all.  They’re a duopoly and their success means suppressing and oppressing their opponents.  Should we then scrap MMP if National or Labour fail to address these issues?  Yes.  Because, what’s the point in it?  It is not serving the purpose it was introduced for.

Written by Nick K

August 8, 2020 at 3:20 pm

Posted in New Zealand

26 Responses

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  1. Of “the list of the remainders”, who, if any, are espousing policies that cannot already be found in the other parties? If your only policy is legalising cannabis (about to be done) or Christian Nationalism (anathema to most Kiwis), what is your point of appeal?

    The Broadcasting Act allocations must go immediately. I cannot think of a better example of a restriction of freedom of expression in a functioning democracy than this.

    Then you aren’t thinking very clearly. This is an aid, not full funding, to promote Party Policies. Want more public funding? Attract more votes. There is no provision preventing parties from raising and spending further money.

    The Electoral Finance Act needs to be scrapped and re-written.

    re-written to encompass what? It’s easy to shout “Abolish”, far harder to outline a replacement. Beware when arguing for change as you may well run up against Brandolini’s law.

    The 5% threshold needs to reduce to 3%.

    Why? You are, I assume, hoping this makes it easier for National No Mates to get a leg up from ACT, but I can’t see anything else it would achieve.

    The minimum number of voters required to join a party before it can be registered should be reduced to 250, rather than 500.

    Why 250? why not zero? Or, here’s a better idea, why better idea – why not an increase to 5,000? Surely more people, not fewer, will aid the democratic process.

    MMP Is working, as it is delivering coalition governments. That National No Mates doesn’t do as well as you’d like is a feature, not a bug.

    Gustavo Frink

    August 8, 2020 at 3:46 pm

  2. Interesting analysis Nick but I think you miss the whole point. Under the current system, if a party can’t get 5% of the vote then it has done a very poor job of discerning the wishes of the electorate. So you want to throw away that fundamental tenet and let every rag tag and bobtail dickhead who wants to call himself a party get into parliament.

    Not for me, thank you. The real fault of MMP is that it allows the tail to wag the dog as in Winston Peters.

    I’d put the threshold up to eight percent, thereby allowing representation for the genuine minority parties as you described in your introduction while keeping the ratbags, including The Greens, at bay.


    August 8, 2020 at 4:39 pm

    • Adolf, you’ve got it arse about face. A party cannot get 5% because of the restrictions. There’s only one party in the history of MMP that has been outside parliament that has entered parliament and stayed there: Act.

      Nick K

      August 8, 2020 at 5:47 pm

  3. Better still Nick – scrap MMP and move to STV.


    August 8, 2020 at 4:43 pm

  4. There was one other driver in support of MMP aside from “fair” representation and that was the voting public’s reaction against FPP having created two radical governments in succession.

    While Labour 84-90 has always been regarded as such, the fact is that Ruth Richardson’s National government was also, the difference being that National cut her and her mates down a lot more quickly than Labour did theirs. Even so, it barely saved National in 1993; people had expected things to calm down by voting them into power in 1990 and boy did they get a shock – hence the massive swing back in 1993, even though Labour was still untrusted.

    Under MMP such radicalism could never happen again. A mainstream party that went rogue would be restrained by smaller coalition partners. In the reverse situation a radical small party like ACT or the Greens will be tamped down by their bigger partners, with the upside that perhaps one or two of the “radical” ideas might find popular support in the larger Party.

    Either way, I think that’s now the driving force behind retaining MMP, not the search for ever fairer representation.

    Tom Hunter

    August 8, 2020 at 5:04 pm

    • Fair comments. But this has led to paralysis by analysis.

      Nick K

      August 8, 2020 at 5:49 pm

  5. I’d also point out that since arguing for better representation of certain groups, what has been discovered by voters is how powerless they still have been once in Parliament or even in Government. Perhaps especially the latter?

    And so people have given up on these small parties over time. The glowing enthusiasms of the mid-late 1990’s have died down in the wake of their failure to steadily find growing support among voters, or with the grim realisation that they’re always going to get kicked in the teeth even when “in power”.

    And of course the likes of the Alliance, Winston First and the Maori Party have steadily been punished with lower votes and even dissolution because of the stresses and strains of coalition government turning off their voters. Hell, we’ve all known for two decades at least that NZ First will die with Winston Peters and it’s only been his longevity and political brilliance that’s enabled it to live this long.

    All of that explains why a multitude of smaller parties have slowly collapsed to two, with perhaps an occasional flareup from time-to-time that might garner attention and even briefly breach the 5% threshold for one election.

    Reducing all these barriers to allow smaller outfits in might make their supporters feel better, but it’s not going to change anything and as result they’ll be just as doomed as their many forebears, leaving their voters just as annoyed as now about the unfairness of the system.

    Tom Hunter

    August 8, 2020 at 5:15 pm

  6. Changing the threshold alone would go a long way towards fixing the problem. It was set at 5% by the two main parties for their benefit, and retained by them ever since at 5% for their benefit. They’ve done very well out of it, but voters sure haven’t.

    Psycho Milt

    August 8, 2020 at 6:41 pm

  7. Nick
    Pray tell what restrictions ‘prevent’ a party reaching 5%? What ever they might be, they don’t seem to have inhibited Winston First or The Greens.


    August 8, 2020 at 6:42 pm

  8. ??

    Gustavo Frink

    August 8, 2020 at 8:03 pm

  9. Agree with Tom. Further more, the biggest blight on MMP So far has been Winston Raymond Peters . A gross venal opportunist and a cancerous polyp on the anus of humanity.

    Porky Roebuck

    August 8, 2020 at 8:09 pm

  10. The current mix with the 5 party’s across the spectrum is probably close to the ideal. However Winston is on the exit ramp and remember that ACT only survived these 9 years thanks to the Epson rort otherwise we would be down to 3. They will make the 5% thanks to the gun nuts. I can’t see how a centralist party could get over the 5% in 2023. Garth Morgan’s TOPS gave it a shake last time and came up a mile short. Options include reducing the threshold to 4%, going to a single transferable vote so that you can vote for a roughie and still have your vote count when it doesn’t make the cut. MMP has defied predictions in that we have had fairly stable governments since its introduction. No serious support for moving back to FPP.


    August 8, 2020 at 8:32 pm

  11. Milt et al … the Royal Commission recommended a 4% threshhold AND the abolition of the Maori seats. The 5% threshold and the retention of the Maori seats was the compromise position.

    I think the RC got it about right.

    Any lower and you’re cementing in tail wag dog politics.

    The Veteran

    August 9, 2020 at 10:01 am

    • Perhaps it was presented as a compromise, I can’t remember. In reality, unilateral abolition of the Māori seats by Pākehā politicians wasn’t going to happen and both major parties wanted a higher threshold because it was in their interests to make it as difficult as possible for new parties to get a foothold.

      Any lower and you’re cementing in tail wag dog politics.

      Any lower and you’re enabling people with unpopular views to have a voice in Parliament. Obviously the major parties and their supporters don’t want that, but a democracy should allow for it.

      Psycho Milt

      August 9, 2020 at 10:23 am

  12. What Royal Commission was that?


    August 9, 2020 at 11:05 am

  13. Milt … it was the compromise position. National wanted 5% and abolition of the Maori seats; Labour wanted 4% and retention of the Maori seats. As MMP is all about compromise so called and ‘they’ voted for compromise. Take your argument to its logical conclusion … what’s special about 4% or 3% or even 2%. If, as you say, its all about getting people with unpopular views into parliament then surely the Party vote threshold should be 0.8% thereabouts being the equivalent of 1/120th of the number of seats in parliament.

    The Veteran

    August 9, 2020 at 11:12 am

  14. Noel

    August 9, 2020 at 11:13 am

  15. Noel … the Royal Commission on the Electoral System … their Report ‘Towards a Better Democracy’ was instrumental in effecting New Zealand to change its electoral system from first-past-the-post to mixed member proportional.

    The Veteran

    August 9, 2020 at 11:16 am

  16. And was reviewed in 2012.


    August 9, 2020 at 12:24 pm

  17. Gerald … and!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! No inter-party consensus so nothing. I fear we’re going to be stuck with the bastard system for a long time to come. Bastard system in the sense it was forced upon West Germany by the allies in order to prevent another Hitler. Instructive that, to the best of my knowledge, no other country in the world has seen any great merit it adopting it. There are better alternatives.

    The Veteran

    August 9, 2020 at 2:17 pm

  18. Thanx GF … but a pretty thin list … Bolivia, Germany, Thailand (variant), Lesoto, South Korea (variant) and Ethiopia (perhaps) plus a couple of ‘in house’ adaptations. Hardly a rush. As I said, there are better alternatives.

    The Veteran

    August 9, 2020 at 3:27 pm

    • As I said, there are better alternatives.

      Yes, twice now. But what are they? And why are they better?

      FPP? Hare-Clarke? Multi-member Electorates? Preferential Voting? Electoral Colleges?

      Gustavo Frink

      August 9, 2020 at 3:55 pm

  19. Noel

    August 10, 2020 at 11:16 am

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