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Sunday, June 26, 2005

MMP open to manipulation, but result would be better representation in Parliament

I've been thinking about an interesting problem with MMP.

MMP has a supposed 'flaw' which exposes it to manipulation by similarly-minded, but organisationally separate, political parties. This flaw is only exposed if the much smaller party goes after (and gets) electorate votes, while the larger party goes for the party vote and does not compete in the smaller party's designated electorates. This strategy is used by the Progressives, and at other times other political parties, to ensure political survival.

However Rodney Hide's predicament due to Act's low polling highlights a far greater 'problem' with MMP's separation of power between electorate candidates and the party vote.

National's dilemma with low polling of the Act Party

Consider this theoretical situation:

National continues it's policy of chasing the Party Vote.

Act identifies several electorates with amenable demographics. Act invests decent candidates and resources into winning those electorates. Voters are entirely aware that the number of total seats National gains is dependent on its Party vote, which means any electorate seats won by a marginal party like Act increases the centre-rights total share of power in Parliament.

Result: No or little change to National's Party vote, and therefore no effect on its total number of MP's in Parliament. Act remains a power in Parliament, increasing the total number of centre-right seats in Parliament without significantly increasing the voting share of the centre-right.

This is not a new idea, and has been openly suggested by several people as a way for National to save Rodney's bacon closer to the election, if Act's party vote doesn't increase in polls nearer to election day. The motivation for National is that it retains the same number of MP's in Parliament due to the Party Vote mechanism, and also retains a (sort-of) ally in Rodney Hide and however many Act MP's he brings in with him.

The Murray McCully National Party of East Coast Bays

So consider this situation: What if many of Nationals popular electorate MP's quit National and started their own electorate-based political party, each of which is solely dedicated to winning one electorate? This would be done in combination with an open political alliance with their old parent National Party. E.g.: Murray McCully would start the Murray McCully National Party of East Coast Bays, and would only stand as an electorate candidate for East Coast Bays. To accomodate this situation, the National Party would have to drop its policy of preventing members from belonging to other political parties. McCully would also have to comply with political party registration rules.

The result of such a strategy by National would be a very large number of National-aligned MP's elected to many electorates, and a very large increase in the number of registered political parties. National's total party vote would remain as is.

Overall result: Many more National MP's in Parliament, far out of proportion to National's share if it only campaigned for the party vote.

Better representation in the longer term

I can see what this situation would lead to: a substantial increase in the total number of MP's in Parliament. However, many of those electorate MP's would no longer be tied to their old parent political party on votes in Parliament. The situation would end up more like the way the two big American parties operate: They are umbrella organisations aimed at increasing the centre-right or centre-left's influence in politics, they provide resources to particular areas which require them, and apply pressure to miscreant members. However Representatives in the USA are free to vote against the mainstream of their Party if they so wish, or if they think the interests of their electorate lies elsewhere (I exclude Senators here). Affiliated Electorate Party MP's in New Zealand, aligned with a major political party but not directly controlled by them, would probably act the same way.

Under the old first-past-the-post system, power exerted by electorate voters on their local candidates was more than offset by the centralised power of the Party. But under this new strategy, moderately independent electorate MP's would be more responsible to their electorates, while still remaining affiliated with their Granddaddy Party. Even better: if the leadership of a political party misbehaves, then an electorate is still free to select one of its affiliated electorate MP's, but is also free to vote against the Granddaddy Party with their party vote.

Of course you wouldn't necessarily want your Leader tied to an electorate seat, but we've seen with Don Brash that distancing the personality appointed to leadership positions from long-term political party affiliation can be seen as a Good Thing. Especially when, like Brash, that person is not seen as a party crony. But there is nothing to prevent a National Party which earns a majority in Parliament from appointing Electorate Party affiliates to positions of responsibility in Cabinet.

First major party to start Affiliated Electorate Party's wins big

The first political party to seriously implement this strategy of separating their electorate vote machinery from their party vote machinery would stand to gain massive influence over Parliament, at least until other major parties clue up. The question is: which party has the best electorate machinery, depends less on centralised control, and better appreciates independent-minded electorate candidates? That's the party which will win big over the long term.

I'd like to get feedback on this idea. Feel free to post comments or email me.

Posted by Antarctic Lemur | 6/26/2005 11:47:00 PM

9 Comments:

Blogger JamesP said...

I don't see how this would work with the overhang system used in our version of MMP. The party vote is all important since it determines the final percentages of the MPs ie. if 40% vote for Labour then Labour will have 40% of the seats in the parliament. The fact that a party wins a higher proportion of the electorate seats than they get on the list vote does not advantage them. All that happens is that the total number of list MPs in parliament is increased until the percentages match and the additional MPs will come from the lists of the other (higher list polling) parties. If anything your approach would guarantee more unaccountable Labour party list members get into parliament. Yuck!

6/27/2005 01:02:00 AM  
Blogger Antarctic Lemur said...

I think I should have gone through the numbers above.

Lets say National gets 40% of the list vote. Then lets say National runs all their electorate MP's as separate small parties or 'independent' MP's. 30 of these win.

So National gets 40% of the list MP's in Parliament but also gets 30 MORE affiliated MP's entering Parliament as overhang seats.

Go to the MMP seat calculator, and include a "Nat Electorate Party" with 1% party vote and 30 electorate seats:
http://www.elections.org.nz/mmp.html

Under this scenario, a reasonable number of total MP's in Parliament approaches 155.

6/27/2005 01:25:00 AM  
Blogger Antarctic Lemur said...

by 40% of list MP's, i mean 40% of MP's before overhang is counted, ie 40% of 120 MP's.

6/27/2005 01:28:00 AM  
Blogger carnifex senatoris said...

I have mused over the fact before than if National were to withdraw from electorates, then, if Labour got no list seats, it'd be the end of Cullen and Wilson. Equally, if Labour did it, it'd be the end of Brash.

I think the only thjing stopping this is that the best way to swerve your party vote.... is to have a local electorate candidate campaigning for it.

6/27/2005 02:02:00 AM  
Blogger Gman said...

You have a similar situaion in Australia between the Nationals and the Libersals--they are now joined at the hips.

The problem I think in the New Zealand political culture would be that the party which acted as the grand-child party would be crucified in the next election, and would be unwilling to go for te deal.

G

6/27/2005 08:39:00 AM  
Blogger Aaron Bhatnagar said...

Some National MPs actually proposed splitting National into two back in 1994, one to contest seats, the other to contest the party vote. I think it was Maurice Williamson's brainwave, if gossip is correct. However, Bolger, Birch and co were utterly hostile to the idea of it.

6/27/2005 04:06:00 PM  
Blogger Antarctic Lemur said...

Aaron, I could understand why. I think a change in mind would be necessary to consider the National Party a wide umbrella organisation, encompassing a Party Vote wing and an Electorate Vote wing.

I still think it would be better for the public in the end.

6/27/2005 09:55:00 PM  
Blogger Lewis said...

AL, I've posted my response on my blog.

7/02/2005 01:58:00 AM  
Blogger Maramatanga said...

I believe that Italy tried something quite similar to this in the 2001 elections. Electorate candidates were signed up to "decoy" parties, meaning that when they won, they didn't reduce the number of proportional MPs given to real parties. I understand it's been quite successful. That said, it looses much of its value if everyone's doing it - it only gets you an advantage if you're the only one trying it. The end result, I think, would simply be much larger parliaments divided along roughly the same lines as smaller ones would be. (Then again, I suppose it isn't really an option for minor parties, because they don't win electorate seats anyway...)

7/03/2005 10:06:00 AM  

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