Has New Zealand really got to grips with MMP? Does it better serve the people or politicians? Those questions are worth asking in light of last weekend’s general election and the expected two-to-three-week wait while negotiations to form a government take place. The MMP (mixed member proportional) voting system to elect Parliament was first used in 1996 after a final binding referendum in 1993 that endorsed the change from FPP (first past the post). There are similarities this time with that first MMP election, in that New Zealand First leader Winston Peters (who had 13.4% of the party vote and won the then five Maori seats) was wooed by the two major parties, National (on 33.9%) and Labour (on 28.2%), to form a government.
Although predicted to go with Labour, NZ First eventually went into coalition with National, and gained the ”kingmaker” moniker, which has stuck. The same scenario is playing out now, after National gained 46% of the party vote, and the Labour/Greens bloc (the parties had a memo of understanding and campaign centred on changing the government) of 41.7% (Labour 35.8%, Greens 5.9%).
More than 20 years after the adoption of MMP, however, New Zealanders could be forgiven for thinking the country still operates in a FPP environment. In the run-up to the election, leaders’ debates were separated into major and minor parties (and some of those were not allowed to partake).
Post-election, many current and former politicians and commentators are claiming National has won and has a so-called ”moral majority” or ”moral mandate” to govern. And the implication is that any more than two parties is somehow anathema to strong and stable government.