MMP doesn’t mean the top polling party leads the government


Elections-MMPEven 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.

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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.


  1. The Herald is echoing Key who said much the same thing after the last Herald Digi Poll result was put to him for comment. Key is simply arguing for a FFP result in an MMP environment and using his own political ignorance to apppear informed.

  2. The best way to refute these tory nonces is simply to point out that it was fine for Don Brash to refuse to concede in 2005 until Labour had shown that it had the numbers to govern.

    That’s National setting the precedent for Cunliffe’s negotiations in November 2014 right there.

  3. Oz has been lead for much of the last 50 years by a party that ran a distant second in the election. They even call themselves “The Coalition” when in power, in case anyone forgets that the Liberals usually only get 30%-40% of the final vote, Labor 40%-50%, Nationals 5%-10% and Greens 10%. John Howard never once as prime minister got more than 50% of the vote, not even close – if he did that would be a landslide win, because the Nationals are so rusted on to the Coalition.

    I’d love to see John Key explain to Tony Abbott that he doesn’t consider Abbott a legitimate prime munster because his party didn’t get the largest single share of the vote.

    • I don’t consider Abbott a legitimate Prime Minister, but this comes from his illegitimacy as a human being and has nothing to do with votes.

  4. The very simple truth about the MSM and the New Zealand Herald reporting as they are is, that they simply wish to continue their crush on John Key and his government. They are “in love” with neoliberalism a la JK, and they continue to believe the sun shines of of his a**ehole.

    Also is the Herald part of APN, and therefore belonging to one of the large corporates that have a controlling stake in the New Zealand news and information business.

    Their editors get told what to publish, and what not to bother with.

    It is self censorship, and having anyone dare to challenge their established reporting, will get as little support and time as possible.

    Have you ever wondered why Simon Collins only writes so little for the Herald these days? Maybe he has written much more than we see being published, but much then will have ended up in their wastepaper basket.

    Tow the line, shut up and do as your told, or ship out, that is how MSM are run, including the TV network, radio and online services!

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