Sunday, October 17, 2021

MMP turns 25

Twenty-five years ago this week, New Zealand’s proportional representation system, MMP (Mixed Member Proportional) officially became the way New Zealand was governed. On October 12, 1996, the first election was held under MMP, something I remember very well because I was here to witness it.

When the 1996 election was held, I hadn’t yet lived in New Zealand for even one year, but I was absorbed by the capaign. That’s not a surprise—in fact, it was natural: I was a political science major in university, and I’d had years of electoral politics and grassroots activism, too. Watching democracy in action has always been as thrilling for me as some sportsball event can be for other people. One thing that I didn't understand at first was far more prosaic: When I first arrived in New Zealand, I didn't understand why the debating chamber that Parliament was meeting in was so boring (it was frequently shown on the evening news). It turned out that was temporary because the actual House of Representatives chamber was being refitted to accommodate the 120 MPs that were to be elected at the 1996 election (the House was smaller under the old system).

In the months after I arrived, Nigel educated me about New Zealand politics, how MMP came to be, and about the various political parties (I don't think I ever mentioned the "boring" debating chamber). He backed the Labour Party, and I realised quickly that it was my ideological home, too. That’s also not a surprise, considering how closely aligned our values and world view were.

Like most people in New Zealand, on Election Night 1996, I thought Labour would form government, but a leader of one of the minor parties, who had once been a National Party cabinet minister, decided to form a coalition with National instead, keeping them in power for another three tumultuous years [see also the list of articles in a series published by Stuff, "MMP at 24", listed below].

It would take another three years, the 1999 General Election, for Labour to win government under MMP. As it happens, that was also the first year I was eligible to vote in New Zealand elections, since I’d become a Permanent Resident in June, 1999. I got to cast my very first “two ticks” for the Labour Party and also for the Labour Party candidate for MP in our Electorate—and both won. It was a nice way to start my voting in New Zealand.

In the years since, Labour and/or its candidate in the Electorate I was living in sometimes won, and lost other times. I volunteered, one way or another, for three different Labour Party candidates, and at one time I was very involved in our Electorate’s Labour Party organisation. That was then.

I burned out on politics because I was becoming increasingly unwell, something that was already becoming apparent in the 2014 General Election, which was ultimately fixed by my cardiac stent in 2016. But I still haven’t recovered any desire to get personally active in politics, though now it's mostly for other reasons: Being a widower, it turns out, zaps a lot of energy, strength, and enthusiasm.

Through everything—winning and losing, health challenges, and tragedy—I’ve remained as strongly committed to MMP as ever. The biggest challenge MMP faced was at the 2011 General Election, when New Zealand had a referendum on whether we should retain MMP. MMP won convincingly. That result was something I passionately argued for, including writing several posts on the topic. There’s still talk about changes and reforms, and I’ll no doubt talk about them with just as much passion.

Right now, though, this is a time to reflect and to celebrate. This post has been part of that, but I’m also including a list of very useful articles one the history and path of MMP in New Zealand, followed by TV commercials recently aired by the Electoral Commission celebrating MMP—by including the first ads explaining MMP to Kiwis in the lead up to the 1996 election. I put those last because for some reason the Electoral Commission often deletes commercials from their YouTube Channel (no idea why). I include them because they’re nostalgic (I saw them back in the day), and also because they contain some New Zealand history.

New Zealand-owned media company Stuff published a four-part series on its Stuff website, “MMP at 25”, and each one of them is really good. They’re all written by Henry Cooke, who I praised last year as being, in my opinion, “the best political reporter in New Zealand”.

The Stuff Series, MMP at 25:

Part 1 – “How an academic dream from West Germany changed New Zealand forever”.

Part 2 – “How politicians let voters destroy their way of life in three short years”.

Part 3 – “The chaotic transition into a new political world almost killed off Labour”.

Part 4 – “MMP has changed Parliament for good. But has it stopped Parliament changing New Zealand?”

The NZ Electoral Commission’s recent ads celebrating MMP at 25 (posted in the order they were posted to YouTube, from most recently posted to first posted):

“People and Party”:

“MMP threshold”:

“MMP proportionality”:

“MMP top up”:


Roger Owen Green said...

You were a poli sci major? You never mentioned that!

Arthur Schenck said...

I don't like to talk about it.