Thursday, November 24, 2011

Final thoughts on the referendum

Just over a month ago, I wrote that I was going to vote to keep MMP. I said:
“Of all the decisions I’ve had to make about voting in the election this year, one was never in doubt: I’ll be voting to keep MMP. Naturally, I hope all other New Zealanders will, too.”
Since then, my desire to see MMP retained has only strengthened aided, if I’m honest, by more in depth study of the proposed alternatives. I basically knew how they all operated, but after looking into them more deeply, I became not just committed to keeping MMP, but an ardent advocate. I know I convinced at least one other person to change their position and support MMP.

All the NZ elections I’ve personally seen have been under MMP. The last one under the old First Past the Post system was in 1993—18 years ago. MMP was selected because of the huge unfairness of FPP, that it delivered minority governments, like the autocratic rule of Robert Muldoon, which was replaced by the only alternative, Labour, which itself had been taken over by neoconservatives because they couldn’t take over National under Muldoon.

Meanwhile, third parties got nowhere, and ordinary New Zealand voters were unrepresented, frustrated and often disenfranchised. MMP was the antidote.

MMP is the most fair and democratic voting system I’ve seen. Its proportionality ensures that the make-up of Parliament mirrors the will of the people. It has encouraged the growth of many smaller parties, increasing the representativeness of Parliament. That’s been strengthened even more by the huge increase in diversity: More woman, more Maori, Pacific Islanders and other ethnic minorities, more GLBT representation—in short, it’s created a Parliament that looks much more like New Zealand than anything FPP would ever have delivered.

No system is perfect, of course, and if MMP is retained, an independent review will look at ways of improving it. So, if we vote to keep MMP, we can make it even better.

I wrote a lot about the alternative voting systems because I think it’s important to explain fully why I support MMP and reject the alternatives (also, I did spend a lot of time studying them…). Here’s a reminder of what I think about the alternatives, along with links to the complete posts:

First Past the Post – it’s unfair, undemocratic and unrepresentative. It’s a total non-starter. MMP is vastly superior.

Supplementary Member – It’s just FPP in fancy-dress: It has all the problems of FPP, with none of the benefits of MMP, the truly proportional system.

Preferential Voting – This is a good alternative to FPP, but only for electorate votes. Because it’s not proportional, it’s not any more representative than FPP. When it comes to deciding the make-up of Parliament, it pales in comparison to MMP.

Single Transferable Vote – While it’s somewhat proportional, it’s far less so than MMP, and it tends to concentrate power in the hands of the main parties. So, STV is far less representative than MMP. It’s also really complicated. MMP beats it easily.

There is a discussion among some of my leftie friends about how to vote in Part B of the referendum: “If New Zealand were to change to another voting system, which voting system would you choose?” Some lefties are saying we should vote for FPP because MMP already beat it and would easily do so again. I’m not convinced. After 18 years, do people remember how undemocratic FPP is? I’d guess not, because it’s polling highest among the alternatives; maybe voters just don’t know what the other systems are.

The government has produced some brilliant resources for explaining the alternatives, but most voters have no idea they’re there, because the public awareness part of the campaign hasn’t been big enough. So, maybe people choose an alternative they already know.

If voters vote to keep MMP, the alternative chosen won’t matter, of course. And even if MMP loses, there may not be a second referendum, anyway. Still, I’m not sure that it’s a good idea to take the chance that a non-proportional system might win.

For me, as I’ve said all along, STV is my very distant second choice. I will probably select it in Part B, unless between now and Saturday I see a really convincing argument to do otherwise. That doesn’t seem likely.

The bottom line is, as I said in my post about STV, “For me, the best system is one that’s democratic, proportional, representative, fair and easy to use and understand. MMP ticks all those boxes.”

Indeed it does. I hope we all vote to Keep MMP and make it even better.

For official information on the referendum, go to www.referendum.org.nz
For information from the campaign to Keep MMP, go to www.keepmmp.org.nz

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