Attack on democracy by underground

Alright, a little sensationalist, but, in my opinion, those who would have New Zealand revert back to first past the post from MMP are advocating a move away from democracy.

I’ve already covered this issue in a previous blog, however a recent poll has me concerned, as does John Key’s promise for a referendum on the issue if National are elected. So let me again outline why MMP is superior to FPP, which, in my humble opinion, can hardly be referred to as a form of democracy.

The most commonly heard argument against MMP is the notion of the tail wagging the dog, and in most cases this dog’s tail is Winston Peters. The thought is that minor politicians and their parties have an undue influence on the governance of the country. This is particularly the case following an election, where a small party is effectively king maker, potentially leading to a drawn at period of political limbo, such as following the 1996 election and to a lesser extend 2005.

A few nights ago, I got in a brief discussion with a guy in the pub about the virtues of FPP versus MMP. Actually, it was more about what is wrong with MMP.

Expectedly, he argued that small parties have undue in influence, which I acknowledge, and that the tail often wags the dog. I countered this with my belief that MMP is a more fair and democratic system, as each voter is more likely to be represented in parliament and that diversity of opinion is a good thing. He referred to Plato’s famous criticism of democracy as “tyranny of the majority”. I acknowledged that this idea is a fair criticism of any form of democracy, especially referendum. What I would have told him, had he not have changed subjects, is that arguably MMP is less susceptible to being corrupted by the “tyranny of the majority” as the largest party has to negotiate and compromise with smaller parties, or even the opposition. FPP, on the other hand, ensures a party has a parliamentary majority and can push through any policy it dreams up.

Unfortunately the conversation concluded before I could find out exactly why FPP was better than MMP (other than the dog’s tail objection), but I imagine he had little to say about MMP or FPP, instead objected more to the current government and its various coalition partners since 1999.

My main objection with FPP is that it promotes a two party system, which in New Zealand’s case would be National and Labour. As the MMP elections have shown, not all New Zealanders align themselves or support one of these two parties. If democracy asks that each person has a right to a vote, should it not also demand, within reason, that that these votes are represented in parliament? Should parliament not reflect the population that they are elected to govern? Previous FPP governments have only represented a faction of New Zealand as many votes were wasted. Compare the column on this table that shows percentage of votes going to independents and minor parties, with the seats these parties obtained. Additionally, some voters may have not even voted because they did not support the two main (arguably rather homogeneous) parties, and would have realised the futility of supporting another party.

Parties must win an electorate seat to be represented. So despite the Greens Party receiving the third highest amount of votes in most opinion polls, and 120,000 votes in the last election, they would not receive a single seat. New Zealand First got 130,000 votes in 2005, but with Winston Peters dipping out on Tauranga, these votes would be wasted under FPP. Voters are disenfranchised. Anyone following the American Presidential elections should see this as a glaring truth (I cover this extensively here).

Young people disproportionately vote Greens – so under FPP we might as well raise the voting age. Older people are known to support NZ First – should we remove their vote to? The higher wage earners give their vote to Act – so should we remove their right to vote unless they live in Epson? To me a move back to FPP would be akin to stripping women or Maori of their votes, imagine the outrage! (that sentence could be ambiguous!) You may not support these smaller parties and be delighted at the prospect of their demise, but arguable then you may be better suited to move to a country with a healthy dictatorship!

Historically parties have recieved less votes than their opposition and still obtained more seats and formed the government. Muldoon retained power in 1978 and 1981 despite National receiving fewer votes than Labour in both elections. And considering the mandate that the parliamentary majority gifted FPP governments, and the abuses of power during the 1970’s, 1980’s and 1990’s by successive National and Labour governments, why would we want to get rid of the need for compromise and coalition that exists under MMP.

To me it really does seem like a case of political amnesia, the likes I have come to expect from people who romantise the National Party of the 1990’s, or the Labour Party of the 1980’s, glazing over their obvious flaws.

I’m not saying MMP is perfect, my previous post acknowledges its faults, but I challenge anyone who has either studied history, or does not suffer from political amnesia to tell me exactly how FPP is a superior system.


6 Comments so far
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FFP? or FPP = First past the post?

Comment by lapbooking

Ha! Cheers, I need an editor!
We have a term at uni for when someone points out a mistake you make. It’s called being subbed! So I got subbed, big time. The shame of being subbed is enough to make you try your utmost not to make spelling or grammar errors, so needless to say I feel ashamed!

Comment by undergroundnetwork

As always, good post, but I have to say, as appalled as I am at National calling a referrendum that COULD see us move back into the dark ages (as you call it, voter amnesia, but hey Kiwis are great at this), arguably FPP is not the only option and Key himself said he doubts we would go back to FPP. That said, I don’t trust him and he has an agenda in even raising the MMP debate. Arguably National would flourish under an FPP government and as you pointed out, the Green party would founder, my vote along with it. So this entire referendum has the potential to be very dangerous, but have to be careful not to view the argument as a two horse race.

Comment by Joel

Thanks Joel,

Yes, you are right.There is of course also STV, which is employed in Australia, which at the face of it looks a very good system. However, like you, I don’t trust Key’s motives, nor those of supporters of FPP or even a referendum on the issue. Even though my post is somewhat sensationalist (that’s me taking the piss out of the Herald!), I do believe that FPP is not very democratic and does effectively disenfranchise a lot of voters. I imagine that, just like the initial referendum on the matter, wealthy lobby groups will commit vast amounts of money on propaganda to ensure we revert back to FPP. This concerns me, as it should anyone who does not believe our democracy should be for sale.


Comment by undergroundnetwork

this referendum will NOT be a FPP v MMP referendum, ir it happens. so why depict it in that light?

Comment by dave

Hi Dave,

My reason for doing so is many New Zealanders still do look back fondly at FPP and would like to revert back to that system. Secondly, many of National’s business backers and wealthy individual supporters do openly desire a move back to that system. To me it appears that National’s preference is FPP, so I combated that. No one is discussing STV or any other system, and no one appears to know much about any of them. Most criticisms of MMP are made in contrast with FPP. Yes I am aware of that other options are available but is anyone seriously putting them forward? Other than the ridiculous “direct democracy” crowd, no one is pushing an alternative. Perhaps they should. If there is a system better than both MMP and FPP, we should consider it. Why the lack of talk about the alternatives? Personally Australia’s STV sounds alright and I have previously said our system needs alterations.

Sure I could/should have mentioned the alternatives, perhaps I will post about them in the future. At the current point the debate IS MMP v FPP, so I blogged on why the choice is a no-brainer.

Thank you for your comment

Comment by undergroundnetwork

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