It seems that the fact that we’re having a Referendum at the same time as the election this year has been lost amongst all the election drama (lions and tigers and tea-tapes, oh my!). This is unfortunate, because the referendum is really important — it will affect what our parliament looks like for decades to come, not just the next three years.
I think this referendum is insanely important, but I do not want to tell you what to vote for. There is an abundance of information on the official Electoral Comission website that tells you how the referendum works, how the five different voting systems work (including five great videos explaining the systems), and how to decide which one(s) you like best.
However, I am going to say that I like MMP, and here’s why:
- My vote counts, no matter where I live. Under solely electorate-based systems like FPP, S[&]M and PV, if I live in an electorate that traditionally has strong support for a particular party (e.g. Epsom for National or Mt Albert for Labour) but I want to vote for another party then my vote will probably be wasted. If I live in any electorate and support a smaller party (i.e. anyone other than Labour or National) then my vote will also likely be wasted.
- My vote counts, no matter who I vote for. My vote influences which parties do or do not get into parliament. The exception to this rule is that my vote is wasted if the proportion of other voters who agree with me is less than 1 in 20 and the party I support does not have strong enough support in a particular area to win an electorate seat. However, this 5% / one electorate seat threshold is one of the aspects of MMP that will be reviewed in 2012 if at least half of us vote to keep MMP at the referendum this Saturday.
- MMP creates more effective parliaments. Parliament is more likely to contain a diverse range of parties who are able and willing to debate the weaker points of legislation. This curtails the ability of governments to rush through legislation that is poorly thought-out, contains giant holes, or is generally bad. That said, despite this apparent ability of MMP to slow down the passing of legislation, National has done a wonderful job of rushing legislation through under urgency during their current term in government.
- MMP creates more diverse parliaments that are more representative of the general population. The number of female, Maori, Pacific and Asian politicians have all significantly increased since we first switched from FPP to MMP (i.e., the proportion of these groups in parliament is now closer to their proportion in society). While I do think there would have been a trend towards more balanced political representation even without MMP, it is clear that young people, females, ethnic minorities and other minorities have a much better chance of getting into parliament on a party list than as an electorate candidate campaigning against a middle-aged (or older) white man.
- I identify more with party policies than electorate MPs. I’ve grown up in an increasingly connected world; I can easily contact any politician using the internet, so I have no need to go down to my local MP’s office. I see no real need to have strong local representation in parliament; each electorate contains a diverse group of people, and local issues will generally be dealt with by local governments. The majority of legislation in parliament is voted for along party lines. List MPs (like Gareth Hughes from the Green Party) have demonstrated that they can campaign effectively and enthusiastically for localised issues (like the Auckland Rail Link) in areas that they do not live in.
- I’ve grown up with it; it’s all I’ve ever known. When MMP was adopted in 1994, the entirety of my political knowledge was that New Zealand had a Prime Minister called Jim Bolger. My brother and I even had a duplo figure named after him!
I’d like to reiterate that if you haven’t already figured out how you’ll be voting in the referendum then you should check out all the resources on the official referendum website. While I have your attention (I still have your attention, right?) I’d like to also mention the reasons why you should vote:
- Because there was a time when you couldn’t.
- Because many people around the world still can’t.
- Because under MMP your vote counts.
- Because each party has very different policies this election, so the result of the election is highly likely to impact you.
- Because you have no right to complain about the state of the country if you don’t.
- Because this election we’re also holding a referendum on the voting system, which could affect what our parliaments and governments look like for many years to come, not just for the next three years (does this sound familiar?)
…so get out there and vote!