Monday, January 23, 2006

Why MMP sucks

And no, this post is not so much a whinge on "being held to ransom by small parties". You'll find plenty of writing on that. This post is questioning on how proportionate proportional representation really is.

First off, we have the gaping hole in the fact that parliaments are inherently FPP. In fact, many things are inherently FPP. Games are FPP. Now, there are a few exceptions but if the All Blacks win 30-20 we don't usually go "Here, you played well, have 40% of a win". Any attempt to try to make the allocation of seats proportional does not realize that our democracy is not proportionational in any respect. If 55% of the population on average would vote "left" and 45% of the population voted "right", the distribution of seats is actually quite irrelevant. Around 65% of Governments will have a "left" majority, regardless of the system actually used. You're trying to get over 50% of the seats in your hands and then you have all the power - "winner takes all". In fact, proportional representation is likely to distort this even more, thanks to the "Winston effect".

We see that the number of seats doesn't actually matter in the case of power. New Zealand First lost almost half of its MPs from the 2002 election, yet Peters had substantially more power. Why? Because Labour was considerably stronger in the 2002 election, and thus had a lot more flexibility. It's a lie then, that proportional representation gives power any more proportionally. It's proportional in a twisted way... to how strong its potential coalition partners are, how close the election result is, how tactiful the party leaders are in "swinging", like Dunne and Peters. In fact, we should be thankful in New Zealand that our major parties together win a considerable majority of the vote, versus some European countries that have it far more fractured. This gives more and more control over the final shape of Government to the coalition negotiators, rather than the people.

Until we get a system that ensures that power in Parliament is not inherently FPP in the first place, MMP will never provide any proper "proportionality". Every now and then it may get it right... but just as well as other systems would have at the time. FPP and others may create situations where more than 50% of the country votes against the Government... but I'm willing to bet 50% of the country wouldn't have voted for this Government if it was running as a single party.

Edit: For an example of how crazy proportional representation can get (and this is not necessarily the most extreme example around, just one I've come across), see the 2003 Finnish Parliamentary Election. The top two parties got less than half of the vote added together.

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