Even after six MMP elections some commentators still don’t understand that we now live in a multi-party democracy, and that it’s the combination of parties which gain the most party votes that will form our government.
The editors of our biggest paper, the New Zealand Herald, are still not up to speed on this. On 25 September the editors claimed that “the public would not respect a government formed by those that finished a distant second and third at the election, though their combined seats outnumbered the winners.”
Does the Herald really think the public wouldn’t respect a Labour/Green government if it won more seats than National and its allies, just because National alone polled more than Labour alone?
Barring a big change in political fortunes Labour is unlikely to outpoll National in the foreseeable future, because a rising Green Party is taking votes from Labour. National will outpoll Labour because, since ACT’s decline, there is no right-of-centre party seriously eroding National’s vote.
The Herald tries to use this month’s German elections to boost its case. It claims that with 41.5% of the vote “there seems to be no question that her [Merkel’s Christian Democrat] party remains the rightful government”, even though the left of centre parties (Social Democrats, Greens and the Left Party) won a majority of the seats. If Merkel does lead a new government it won’t be because she has a “biggest party” right to govern, but because the Social Democrats is feel more comfortable coalescing with the Christian Democrats than with the Left Party. This isn’t because the Left Party is particularly radical – despite its socialist rhetoric. In day-to-day practical politics the Left Party is probably no more to the left than the NZ Greens or Mana.
At the regional (state) level the Social Democrats have been more flexible. In Brandenburg state, given a choice between a Social Democrat/Christian Democrat majority coalition and a Social Democrat/Left Party majority coalition, the Social Democrats went with the later. What is described as a Red/Red coalition rules the state.
Since this month’s federal German elections there have been some strong voices for a Social Democrat/Green/Left governing arrangement, including from the only Green electorate MP, Hans Christian Strobele, who said: “Let’s talk to all of the parties, including Die Linke [Left Party]. The ‘leftwing camp’ has a majority in parliament.”
In Sweden, Norway and Denmark, where there are well established multi-party proportional systems, the current governments do not include the political party which won the most votes. In multi-party systems the only thing that matters is which parties combined have a majority of seats.
And so it should be in New Zealand.