Another successful PR election in New Zealand

by Jannike Ballo // Published December 2, 2008

New Zealand held general elections on November 8th, 2008 using Mixed Member Proportional Representation (MMP-PR), which has been the election system used in the country since the traditional single-member plurality system was abandoned in the 1990. And once again the electoral cycle highlighted how the shift to Winner-Take-All to PR has allowed a better representation of women and minorities and a dramatic increase in voter satisfaction.

According to Ron Woodman, president at Fairvote N.L., New Zealand's change to MMP represents a shift towards less wasted votes. "Before they changed their system they had 48 per cent wasted votes and after they changed they had 1 per cent wasted votes, so almost everyone's vote went to electing someone", Woodman says to The Muse Online.

MMP is a mixed member proportional voting system, which claims to take the best from both worlds: Winner-take all and PR. It provides geographical representation and close ties to constituencies of single-member plurality voting with the benefits of proportional representation. The system uses double ballots where voters cast votes for both a district representative and a party list. Half of the seats are filled with representatives that are elected from single-member constituencies.

The move towards electoral reform started in 1985, when Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Justice, Geoffrey Palmer (Labour), established the Royal Commission on the Electoral System. In the 1985 elections the Labour Party got more votes than the National Party, but because of the First-Past-the-Post system (FPTP), the National Party received more seats. A report released by the commission in 1986, Towards a Better Democracy, recommended a system of Mixed Member Proportional Representation. But the report did not catch attention outside of academic circles.

In 1992 an initial referendum was held and nearly 85 per cent of voters opted 'for a change to the voting system'. 14 months later, the new electoral system was adopted after a second referendum in which 54 per cent favored MMP (while 46 per cent voted to retain FPTP).

New Zealand has changed from being a country ruled by single-party majority governments to being a country governed by coalitions.

As the Royal Commission on the Electoral System envisaged, with the change to MMP the Parliament now more effectively represents the Maori, women, Asians and Pacific Islanders. In the last FTPT Parliament only 7 per cent of the members were Maori, now they account for 16 per cent. The proportion of women has risen from 21 to 29 per cent (in the first three MMP Parliaments) and the percentage of Pacific Islanders rose from 0 to 2 per cent. The November 8th election left The National Party with 59 seats out of a total of 122, the Liberals gained 43, The Green Party 9 seats, The ACT Party and The Maori Party were left with 5 seats each and The Progressive Party with 1 seat.

MMP was originally invented in West Germany right after World War Two and has since been adopted by several countries, such as Scotland, Wales, Hungary, Bolivia and Venezuela. Because of the system compromising between rivaling electoral designs, MMP is increasingly popular within electoral reform.

Even though MMP is a compromise between systems, it is still considered a form of Proportional Representation. Vernon Bogdanor, a professor of government at Oxford University once said the following about PR: "PR is a transparent electoral system. The outcome is a reflection of society. If one does not like the result, it is pointless to blame the mirror."