Vote-splitting in the MMP lottery


    There were flaws built into MMP as we embraced it in 1993 after an election in which Labour won 41 percent of popular votes and Social Credit 20 percent but  National, with 39 percent, ruled untrammelled because it got a majority of seats  in the House. Social Credit got no presence at all.Unfortunately, as a Swedish business friend sorrowfully told me at the time, we were then led into what had proved, in his home country, to be probably the worst version of the Mixed Member Proportional representation option.

    There have certainly been fishhooks and consequences with potentially decisive vote-splitting on the Left in electorates (including Auckland Central) influencing outcomes through at least four electoral cycles.

    In the Herald this week, senior writer Simon Wilson was, I thought, a brave man to call on Labour’s Helen White to withdraw in favour of mayoral hopeful and Green Party MP Chloe Swarbrick.

    When their respective electorate nominations were announced, it seemed the most likely outcome  – in a historically Labour constituency – was a split vote on the Left sending the seat again to National by a small margin.

    Two months ago, if the Greens failed to make the five percent threshold, it was entirely possible that  neither of these strong, articulate and useful women would make it into Parliament.

    It seemed there were no good guesses in this pernicious vote-split.

    In 2017, Ms White lost to National cabinet minister the Hon Nicky Kaye by a margin of 1581 votes. Green list MP Denise Roche garnered 2838 votes. For all the gerrymandering of boundaries, National’s party vote was 39.2 percent, Labour and Greens together, in a historically traditional Labour constituency, 51.7 percent.

    Three years earlier, Jacinda Ardern had lost to the Hon Nikki Kaye in Auckland Central by a margin of 600 votes. Votes for Green list MP Denise Roche were 2080.

    In 2017, Ms Swarbrick herself stood in Maungakiekie against Labour constituent candidate Priyanca Radhakrishnan, splitting the vote and delivering the constituency representation to National’s Denise Lee with 15,063 votes.  Radhakrishnan got 12,906 votes and Swarbrick 4060, a total of 17,000 for Labour and the Greens. Labour got 43.4 percent of the party votes in the electorate, and National 40.7 percent.

    A week ago the Colmar Brunton poll in Auckland Central put Ms White ahead on 35 percent, National candidate Emma Mellow on 30 percent and Ms Swarbrick on 26 percent.  Labour is top in the party vote with 47 percent, National has 28 percent and Greens 13 percent in the electorate.

    At this point, the seat could still go to the National candidate.

    So with the vote split  a fact of life, the question is how to develop a strategy for voting on the progressive Left?

    The Greens have now risen but only to seven percent in the national poll and Act is on eight percent.

    It’s possible to argue that the most strategic vote for the Left might be to vote Labour for the constituency, improving Ms White’s margin over the National candidate, and to party-vote Green to ensure that the Greens (and high-profile Green MP Ms Swarbrick) are returned to Parliament.

    MMP was a step-change to fix a couple of hefty skews in the first-past-the-post system but now more than 30 percent of those coming into Parliament will have been appointed by the political party hierarchies, whether their nominees are electable or not. Effectively, it’s a triennial Dutch auction as to who is going to be in the government and what the policies are going to be.

    None of it helps endemic erosion of voter confidence and, globally, the relegation of democratic processes to cheap and noisy entertainment.

    Personally, I’ve ignored both referenda until now, both issues having existing and long-established remedies that don’t need the knee-jerk of poorly debated referendums to make someone’s political mark (the UK’s Brexit and even our flag are salutary examples).

    Accordingly, I’m with Salvation Army Commissioner Mark Campbell, who this week urged people to vote against the ACT Party’s End-of-Life Choice Bill which he described as a deeply flawed piece of legislation for its lack of safeguards.

    We already have a world-renowned palliative care system that already provides high-quality end-of-life care, said the man from the coalface. “The focus should be on improving access to this care, not legislating a quicker death. Further, the Army contends that there is a significant difference between withholding treatment that prolongs life – which is already allowable under New Zealand law – and taking action to intentionally cause death.” Cruel dystopias lie that way. •

    Liz Waters

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