Voting by Numbers

By James, Colin | New Zealand Management, September 2005 | Go to article overview
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Voting by Numbers


James, Colin, New Zealand Management


As fast as one party goes out of Parliament, another comes in, it seems. We appear to be stuck around seven. How come? Mauri Pacific, the post-1998 New Zealand First splinter, disappeared in the 1999 election but the Greens came in. The Alliance disappeared in 2002 but left behind a splinter, Jim Anderton's Progressive party.

This election will confirm the Maori party, a splinter of Labour, to make up the numbers if ACT goes. If Anderton makes this coming term his last, Destiny is out there fishing in the moral conservative catchment.

Why this diversity? After all, it took the Germans, whose system we copied, just four elections to get to three.

First, society is more diverse than in the halcyon two-party-politics days (in 1951 National and Labour shared 99.8 percent of the vote). So you would expect a spread of parties. Germany now has five.

Second, the system was skewed by the 1986 royal commissioners' recommendation of full proportionality for parties which win an electorate seat. This special "waiver" of the five percent threshold was copied from Germany along with the rest of MMR The commission's chair, Sir John Wallace, volunteered in April 2002 that it was a mistake.

Self-evidently so. In 1996 the Christian Coalition got 4.3 percent but no seats. In 1999 New Zealand First got 4.3 percent and five seats, thanks to Winston Peters winning Tauranga by 63 votes.

If Peters had been a lone MP after 1999, would he have rebounded in the 2002 election to 10.4 percent of the votes and 13 MPs?

Maybe. Peter Dunne survived as a lone MP from 1996 to 2002 before his windfall in that election and Peters did do a stint as a lone MP in 1992/93. But it is hard going. Few MPs, Peters included, would relish indefinite lone representation.

What might reduce the numbers?

First, the two main parties might lift their combined share of the vote and squeeze small parties into a smaller space. In 1996 and 2002 National and Labour left 38 percent for small parties and in 1999 31 percent. At the time of writing that space looked likely to be smaller than 25 percent this time. If a smaller space becomes the norm, small parties without electorate seats would struggle, as ACT has this time.

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