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Tales from Tawa: When A Democracy Is Not A Democracy

...In my opinion taking names from a party list is clearly undemocratic as it has made it possible for a politician to lose his/her electorate seat, but still able to get into parliament as a list MP.

Nothing can convince me that having members of Parliament who have not been voted in by the people is democratic. An MP could be an out and out tyrant but as long as he/she is on a party list there is no way the country can be rid of him/her...

New Zealander Eve-Marie Wilson declares that a new voting system has resulted in her once-democratic homeland no longer being a democacy.

In response to rumblings of dissatisfaction with the New Zealand voting system which had began in the 1950s and which had gained momentum over the years, a Royal Commission was set up in 1985 to look into the issue.

Its report, completed the following year, recommended New Zealand form a Parliament by adopting an MMP system of voting similar to that used in Germany. Each voter would get two votes: one for an electorate MP and one for a party. The size of Parliament would increase to 120 MPs: coming from 62 general and 7 Maori electorate seats and 51 seats selected from party lists. To be allocated a seat in Parliament a party would need to win an electoral seat or more than 5% of all the party votes thus making it easier for minority parties to get a seat in Parliament. This would make each party’s share of the 120 seats equal to its share of the overall vote.

In 1993 New Zealanders were persuaded to sanction this recommendation on the basis their current first-past-the-post (FPP) parliamentary voting system was unfair, because the opposition party often secured more votes overall, than the party which gained the most seats and became the government.

Furthermore, New Zealanders were told, the FPP system did no favours for those who voted for alternative parties to National or Labour. In 1981 Social Credit the leading ‘third’ party gained 21% of the votes, but only 2 out of the 92 seats in Parliament. The FPP system clearly created a Parliament quite different in composition to that which the voters wanted.
This explanation seemed fair and reasonable at the time, and true to its philosophy MMP has created a Parliament which is more diverse and representative of New Zealand society. However, this is not necessarily a desirable situation. The House of Representatives now has among its numbers; a Moslem who votes or abstains according to the dictates of his religion rather than the desires of his constituents, a transvestite who is unsure whether she/he is male or female, a Rastafarian who admits he smokes dope and whose main desire in life is to have it legalized and a motley collection of Maori who don’t appear to have a brain between them. One of these has such a small vocabulary he curses and swears his way through every speech he makes. And none of these people can be voted out because they are on the list!

In my opinion taking names from a party list is clearly undemocratic as it has made it possible for a politician to lose his/her electorate seat, but still able to get into parliament as a list MP.

Nothing can convince me that having members of Parliament who have not been voted in by the people is democratic. An MP could be an out and out tyrant but as long as he/she is on a party list there is no way the country can be rid of him/her.

Not only can list MPs hold a seat in Parliament they can hold cabinet posts. A case in point is New Zealand’s current Minister of Foreign Affairs who was defeated in the constituency for which he stood, but as leader of the minority New Zealand First Party he was number one on his party’s list. The Labour government needed his vote to be able to govern so he traded this for the post of Minister of Foreign Affairs. To me, having an MP holding a senior government portfolio when they are not a member of the caucus or the governing party is completely incongruous.

Furthermore list MPs who have been ousted from their party because of misbehaviour or who have left of their own volition, are able to stay on as independent MPs. This waka-jumping as it is nick named (a waka being a Maori canoe) upsets the electoral proportionality of the Parliament as it leaves the affected political party with fewer seats than the public has chosen to give it. I see this as the greatest breech of the doctrine of democracy as these so-called independent MPs have no allegiance to any party or any voter yet they go on collecting their parliamentary salary. It is outright sneaking into Parliament though the back door!

In reaction to the voters outrage at a spate of party switching by list MPs the Electoral Integrity Act was passed in 2001 but this has since expired and politicians continue to swap parties or stay on as an independent MPs as it suits them.

Probably the worse instance of this occurred in 2003 when a female politician was arrested for fraud (she took money from an educational foundation to pay for her cosmetic surgery) but refused to resign from Parliament. She was subsequently expelled from her party caucus and then removed from its membership, but she stubbornly refused to leave Parliament staying on as an independent MP. Her party then tried to remove her by invoking the Electoral Integrity Act on the basis her departure from the party left it with fewer seats than it was entitled to. She sought a court injunction against this which the High Court initially refused, but which the Court of Appeal overruled. Finally in November 2004 the Supreme Court unanimously upheld the original decision and her seat was declared vacant allowing the next person on the list to take his seat in Parliament.

In my opinion the New Zealand public has been duped. The New Zealand system of MMP has led to a democratic country not being a democracy.

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