The Dim-Post

August 14, 2012

More mob rule

Filed under: Politics — danylmc @ 8:12 am

Andrew Geddisss and Graeme Edgeler tell us what to think about the Electoral Commission’s recommendations here and here, respectively.

In my submission to the Commission I was in favor of no threshold – I think it’s too paternalistic. Why should parties receiving votes from tens of thousands of people be denied entry to Parliament because they fail to meet some arbitrary, political-elite imposed requirement?

But I have been wondering what impact such a low threshold would have on the lobbying culture in New Zealand. Could vested interests simply fund their own single-issue parties? Would, say, the multi-national pharmaceutical companies found the ‘HealthCare New Zealand’ party and put one of their PR guys into Parliament, who would provide confidence and supply in exchange for abolishing Pharmac? Would that be worth a couple hundred grand every three years?

On the other hand, would it be such a bad thing if vested interests had a direct – but more open – role in government, as opposed to the far more opaque arrangement we currently have?

24 Comments »

  1. Wasn’t there a party last election founded (and probably funded) out of China. It’s first meeting was reported as being there. Failed to fire…

    Comment by Sunny — August 14, 2012 @ 8:21 am

  2. But I have been wondering what impact such a low threshold would have on the lobbying culture in New Zealand. Could vested interests simply fund their own single-issue parties?

    They could. But that doesn’t necessarily translate into power. For that, you need votes – and voters are likely to be suspicious of such moves.

    (Past history of the WIN and New Citizen parties suggests some practical difficulties as well)

    Comment by Idiot/Savant (@norightturnnz) — August 14, 2012 @ 8:39 am

  3. “In my submission to the Commission I was in favor of no threshold – I think it’s too paternalistic. Why should parties receiving votes from tens of thousands of people be denied entry to Parliament because they fail to meet some arbitrary, political-elite imposed requirement?”

    No. You were in favour of a threshold of 0.42% of the non-wasted party vote (about 9,200-9,400 votes at the last election). So can you explain to me why a party that gets 9,000 votes shouldn’t be allowed a representative in Parliament, while one that gets 9,400 votes should? Why impose this arbitrary, political-elite favoured limit on representation? You paternalist, you!

    Point being, there’s always a support threshold beneath which we say “sorry – your vote doesn’t get anyone into Parliament”, and that threshold is always “arbitrarily” designated. Now, you happen to think this arbitrary line ought to be placed at a lower level than others – including the vast majority of those who submitted to the Electoral Commission on the issue. So to imply that the Commission’s recommendation of a threshold of 4% (or 3%, or whatever) is simply a “political elite imposed requirement” seems to ignore what most folks who took the time to tell the Commission want.

    And given that fact, wouldn’t the Commission recommending changing MMP to have no threshold at all (or, rather, a threshold of 0.42%) represent … an arbitrary, political-elite imposed requirement?

    Comment by Andrew Geddis — August 14, 2012 @ 9:13 am

  4. No, because a threshold of 0.42% enfranchises a lot more voters than a threshold of 3% or 4%, or whatever percentage ensures that $PARTY_ANDREW_GEDDIS_LIKES gets in, while nasty old $PARTY_ANDREW_GEDDIS_HATES

    Comment by Trouble Man — August 14, 2012 @ 9:35 am

  5. …doesn’t get in. Whoops.

    Comment by Trouble Man — August 14, 2012 @ 9:35 am

  6. Our three year election cycle acts as one of the few – and probably the most important – constitutional handbrakes on the otherwise dangerously untrammeled power of our authoritarian and unicameral parliament. Therefore voters wisely insist the electoral system be one that is designed to be able to reflect the will of the people as accurately as possible. However, once an election is over New Zealanders have consistently displayed a rather less wise marked cultural preference for strongly authoritarian rule – probably the most common objection one hears to MMP is it prevents “decisive” government.

    Many commentators reflect this contradictionary expectation we have of our democracy, on the one hand suggesting it is an alloyed good that even the smallest two-bit joke party get a seat if it gets 1.2% of the vote and on the other hand demanding strong and decisive government for the three intervening years between elections.

    Until the voters themselves come to terms with these two strongly held but contradicting viewpoints I can’t see how the electoral commission can come up with something that keeps them happy.

    Comment by Sanctuary — August 14, 2012 @ 9:54 am

  7. No threshold means The ‘Bill & Ben Party’ would have made it into parliament in 2008 which would have been ‘interesting’.

    Comment by rocketboy2007 — August 14, 2012 @ 10:07 am

  8. No threshold means The ‘Bill & Ben Party’ would have made it into parliament in 2008 which would have been ‘interesting’.

    As the person responsible for the currency of this claim, I would point out that the Royal Commission recommended that if we were to have no threshold, then a modified form of the Sainte-Laguë allocation process should have been used, which would have meant that Bill would not have been elected as a member of Parliament.

    Comment by Graeme Edgeler — August 14, 2012 @ 10:27 am

  9. No threshold means people who voted Bill and Ben in 2008 would have had to do so in the very real expectation that B & B might be elected, rather than treating it as a joke. Whether they would have made it into Parliament under those circumstances is very much open to question. Point being, change the rules and you also change voter behaviour.

    Comment by Psycho Milt — August 14, 2012 @ 10:29 am

  10. Trouble Man,

    Do you even know what my view on an appropriate threshold is? All I pointed out was that:

    (1): There is no such thing as “no threshold” for representation;

    (2): Any threshold is “arbitrary” (although some thresholds will permit more parties to be represented in Parliament than others); and

    (3): The large majority of people who submitted to the Royal Commission wanted a threshold of 4% or greater (and there is evidence from the NZ Election Study that this view is shared by the voting population as a whole) … so to claim that a 4% figure is purely a “political-elite imposed requirement” denigrates their contribution to the debate in a way that seems very elitist.

    To somehow turn these points into my seeking to exclude parties I don’t like is rubbish. Or, if it IS only my an attempt to keep my preferred parties in and others out, then by the same token danyl et al must want to do away with threshold for no reason other than that they want to see parties they like in Parliament. So I guess we’re all just partisan shills down in the gutter together.

    Comment by Andrew Geddis — August 14, 2012 @ 11:36 am

  11. “Would, say, the multi-national pharmaceutical companies found the ‘HealthCare New Zealand’ party and put one of their PR guys into Parliament, who would provide confidence and supply in exchange for abolishing Pharmac?”

    Well, if enough people voted for the party (which I strongly doubt, but let’s say) isn’t that just democracy in action?

    Comment by Hugh — August 14, 2012 @ 12:07 pm

  12. Israel had a “no threshold” parliament, and the governing parties (alternating between Likud and Labour) were always held to ransom by the few one-seat extremist religious parties. So yes, having no threshold CAN be damaging.

    Comment by David from Chch — August 14, 2012 @ 12:09 pm

  13. I think there should be a one percent threshold because five percent is too high (it means one out of twenty voters want your party in Parliament and does not cater for fringe parties that have just as much as right for their views to be counted in Parliament); four percent is only slightly less than five percent and won’t change anything; three percent may mean a smaller party gets more representation in Parliament; but one percent, for a threshold, really changes the political landscape and makes things more interesting.

    Comment by Daniel Lang — August 14, 2012 @ 12:20 pm

  14. If we had had a 1% or 0.4% threshold in 1996 and 1999, the Legalise Cannabis Party would have got into parliament.

    I wonder what they would have done there. Would they have had any success in trading votes on other issues for support for a bill to legalise cannabis? Would they just have sat there submitting Members’ Bills to legalise cannabis in the hope that one of them would get drawn and a majority would support it?

    Would they have tried to make themselves useful in the meantime by working on other issues? and if so, would they have made complete idiots of themselves on those issues, or would they have shown they had something worthwhile to contribute on those issues after all?

    Comment by kahikatea — August 14, 2012 @ 2:21 pm

  15. Their representation in Parliament would have been very little, however the landscape would have changed and a lot of other parties’ respresentation in Parliament would have been affected, which is the point.

    The legalisation of cannabis would not have gone through because a majority would not have supported it; but, you can see, with my point, the landscape of Parliament being changed means fresh faces, new ideas, and an opportunity for more of a meritocracy in Parliament instead of the “jobs for the boys” school of thought which is currently adversely affecting our political system, as evidenced by the possibility raised recently of the reinstatement of Nick Smith.

    Comment by Daniel Lang — August 14, 2012 @ 3:15 pm

  16. The big pharma example shows how electoral finance reform would need to go hand in hand with a really low threshold, unless we want only the richest voices dominating political conversations.

    Comment by Sacha — August 14, 2012 @ 3:53 pm

  17. Yeah, let’s go with the extreme no-threshold version of MMP that was used in the Weimar Republic. That worked out great!

    Comment by RAS — August 14, 2012 @ 4:59 pm

  18. “(2): Any threshold is “arbitrary” (although some thresholds will permit more parties to be represented in Parliament than others); and”

    Wrong. District magnitude is always determined by the number of representatives for the electorate, unless an arbitrary limit is imposed. Sure the number of MPs limits how fine grained proportionality can be, but this isn’t the primary reason for the number of MPs.

    Arbitrarily limiting district magnitude is a tyranny of the majority.

    Comment by Swan — August 14, 2012 @ 8:49 pm

  19. Yeah RAS. Because NZs current economic and political context is exactly like interwar Germany.

    Comment by Gregor W — August 15, 2012 @ 9:05 am

  20. @Swan: “Sure the number of MPs limits how fine grained proportionality can be, but this isn’t the primary reason for the number of MPs.”

    But why does it matter what the “primary reason for the number of MPs” is, given its effect on representation? The figure of 120 MPs is a purely arbitrary, compromise one based on a Goldilocks formula – it allows “enough” representation, while not costing the country “too much”. Tweak either of those variables and you could have 99 MPs. Or 150 MPs. And as a consequence of us having an arbitrary number of 120 MPs, a “no threshold” form of MMP in NZ would still disenfranchise any party that couldn’t get more than about 9,200-9,400 votes.

    So, the question remains … why is a requirement that a party get 4% of the party vote “arbitrary”, but a requirement that it get 0.42% is “not arbitrary”? Sure, the latter figure is more inclusive/more representative/etc … but it’s still purely arbitrary. Which is all I’ve ever said.

    “Arbitrarily limiting district magnitude is a tyranny of the majority.”

    You mean like imposing MMP in the first place was “a tyranny of the majority” over those who preferred other electoral systems? Or restricting how much candidates/political parties can spend on their election is “a tyranny of the majority” of those who prefer electoral equality over those who want to spend a fortune trying to influence the election outcome? Or retaining the Maori seats is “a tyranny of the majority” over John Ansell?

    So … what are we to do here, given that any electoral rule preferred by the majority may disadvantage/work against the interests of the minority who prefer something different? Do we allow “the people” (i.e. the majority of voters) to choose the rules their electoral system operates under (even if that majority does so in its own interests), or do we appoint a wise set of guardians to create the “right” set of electoral rules according to what “democracy” really should look like? And if the latter, who gets to be a guardian, and decide what “democracy” really means?

    Comment by Andrew Geddis — August 15, 2012 @ 10:44 am

  21. Of course, we could always have fractional MPs. Either by timesharing or a spokescouncil model. Bother have their merits, but there mere existence gives the lie to this notion that one MP is the hard lower limit on representation. I’m not sure what the actual limit is, but it’s human rather than abstract.

    Comment by Moz in Oz — August 15, 2012 @ 7:42 pm

  22. Andrew,

    There is a big difference between the ‘effective’ threshold of 0.42% and 5% or 4%. With a 0.42% threshold, the only reason people don’t get representation is because they don’t have the numbers to make a “whole seat”. And this is as true for the people voting for the minor party as the marginal voters voting for a major party.

    On the other hand, with a 4% threshold, if 0.42% (or whatever it works out to be on average) of people choose to vote for a major party, they get representation. But if those same people, or even 5 times their number, vote for a minor party they don’t get representation.

    So the former case has a threshold, but it acts in the same way across the board for marginal votes. The latter disadvantages one group of voters vs another of the same size.

    Comment by swan — August 15, 2012 @ 9:06 pm

  23. Moz in Oz: “Of course, we could always have fractional MPs.”

    Yes … we could have a rule that says anyone who gets any votes at all gets to have a proportionate say in the legislative process. Meaning, in theory, that if all 2 million some voters put themselves forwards as candidates and all voted only for themselves, we’d have a legisature that consists of 2 million “fractional” MPs, each with the same right to decide on laws, etc. That would be a non-arbitrary way of apportioning representation – not sure how appealing it is, though.

    swan,

    Sure – once you set the number of seats in the legislature in an inevitably arbitrary manner (“why 120 seats and not 130 or 150?”), then you essentially say that votes for a party which do not go to make up a “whole seat” in that legislature are “wasted”. But I’m not sure how pointing out that this works for both big and little parties makes the effect any less “arbitrary” … if the Greens get (say) 9000 votes more than they needed to get (say) 11 whole seats in Parliament, but (say) 300 less than needed to get 12 seats, then those 9000 votes are just as “wasted” as if they had been cast for a micro party that gets no representation in Parliament. Whereas, if Parliament had more seats, then those votes would count towards giving more representation. So while a “no threshold” system may be “fairer” as between big and little parties, that’s not the point in contention.

    Because I’d once again point out I’ve never claimed that a “no threshold” system isn’t more inclusive/more representative/etc, nor denied that it a decision to impose a threshold of 4% (or 3%, or whatever) isn’t motivated by a desire to keep small parties out of Parliament. That may or may not be a bad thing – and that’s the point that should be argued. All I’m saying is that the claim that a 4% threshold is “arbitrary” isn’t that compelling, given that ANY threshold (even “no threshold”) also is “arbitrary” in terms of who it lets in and who it excludes.

    Comment by Andrew Geddis — August 16, 2012 @ 3:26 am

  24. You don’t need fractional MPs. Every party that wins any party votes gets at least one MP. During a party vote, it gets to cast as many votes in the House as it got at the election🙂

    Comment by Graeme Edgeler — August 16, 2012 @ 4:02 pm


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