Don’t Moan about MMP Disqualification Rules



I hope people on the left will not grizzle if Murray McCully stands aside for Colin Craig as electorate candidate in East Coast Bays.

MMP has two disqualification rules; one conservative and one liberal. A party does not get a proportional quota of seats in Parliament if it gets both less than five percent of the popular vote and zero electorate seats. Thus all parties that actually contribute to Parliament can expect to receive a quota of seats in proportion to the votes cast for them. The conservative disqualification rule is the five percent threshold.

The liberal disqualification rule (the zero-electorate-seat rule) represents a critically important lifeline to smaller parties that participate in government. Further, it gives opportunities for new parties who wish to contribute, without them having to gain five percent of the popular vote.

Our electoral system is an amalgam of pure proportional representation, and first-past-the-post local politics. Appropriately, it is the proportional part that really matters. We note that democratic politics always has been and always will be a numbers game. Success in political contests requires numeracy. That’s one reason why we get so many right-wing governments, even though the majority of voters do not belong to the privileged minority of the population. Right-wingers are consistently better at arithmetic.

It is the local part of our MMP system that produces much election-night drama. This is partly because of the Maori electorates, but mostly because of what are commonly perceived as underhand deals in order to avoid the disqualification of a small party.

The Epsom case that provided much of the drama in 2005, 2008 and 2011 was a deal, but never an underhand deal. (The days of underhand deals and gerrymanders, in smoke-filled offices or around copious servings of fish and chips, are long gone.) Clearly National didn’t want Act to suffer from quota disqualification, so it was appropriate that National should campaign, in Epsom, only for the all-important party vote. (Indeed parties should only campaign for the party vote; let candidates campaign for the electorate vote.) Before Epsom, we had similar situations in Tauranga, Wellington Central, Wigram, and of course the perennial Ohariu.

The problem in Epsom was that the Labour Party (and many Labour voters) simply lacked the numeracy-nous to shut-out Act. (The Green Party equally lacked such nous in 2005; hence Keith Locke’s near-naked stroll through Newmarket.)

TDB Recommends

Labour’s biggest mistake by far was to select senior MP David Parker as Labour candidate in Epsom. Labour should not have even contested the Epsom election.

Let’s consider this counterfactual: what would have happened in NZ politics had all Labour Party voters in Epsom in 2011 voted for Paul Goldsmith as well as voting Labour? Given that John Banks got significantly under 50 percent of the vote in Epsom, it could have been easy to defeat him. All that was required was for those who did not want John Banks to be MP for Epsom to vote for the only candidate who could beat him; namely Paul Goldsmith.

It was the votes pointlessly cast for David Parker that gifted the Epsom electorate to John Banks. (Something similar happened in 2001 when many people gifted Banks the Auckland mayoralty by voting for Matt McCarten instead of Chris Fletcher.) Why would anyone vote for a non-contestant (meaning anyone destined to come third or lower) when they could use their vote to actually influence the result?

Back to the counterfactual. If John Banks had been defeated in Epsom, the present Opposition parties would have gained one more seat. The Maori Party would then have held the critical balance that Peter Dunne now wimply holds.

We note that the Maori Party would have required more than National was willing to offer in order to support policies such as the asset sale programme. Essentially, the asset sales would not have gone ahead. Indeed, we might have had a different government; the Maori Party gave no guarantee that, if it held the strategic balance, it would support a National-led government. And, if it had initially supported National to form a government, a Maori Party with that critical balance could have ditched National mid-term and negotiated to form a Labour-led Government this year.

In 2014 it seems likely that Colin Craig will become MP for East Coast Bays, and good luck to him. If he can get more than fifty percent of the votes in any electorate then he deserves to win it. Further, his party will have contributed to the democratic contest of ideas; it will not deserve to fall foul of any MMP quota disqualification rules. If four percent of people vote Conservative and Craig wins East Coast Bays, then the Conservative Party will deserve to have five MPs in 2014-17. The Conservative List MPs will be no more ‘coat-tail’ MPs than Steven Joyce, Murray McCully and David Parker will be.

If we are going to have a Labour-led government in 2014, it should be because parties willing to participate in such a government get, in total, more than 50 percent of the vote. That should not be hard, given the cavalier approach towards public opinion that National takes. (It might be very hard to defeat National, though, if National decides to keep Genesis Energy in public ownership.) Defeat snatched from the jaws of victory, however, is not unknown to prospective Labour Prime Ministers.


  1. In speaking of the Labour Party, Chris Trotter often repeats the line, that the Labour Party leadership, “Would rather keep control of the losing side, than lose control of the winning side”.

    In the Epsom seat Mana stood a candidate with the avowed position of stopping the Right wing John Banks getting in.

    The Mana candidate for Epsom Pat O’Dea, said “Good people of Epsom, do not vote for John Banks”, he also told the “Good People of Epsom” not to vote for him either, saying, “I would not know how to represent rich people anyway.”

    David Parker on the other hand actively campaigned for votes in Epsom.

    All through the campaign the Mana tactic seemed to be working. Even the very public ‘Tea Party’ endorsement of Banks by John Key didn’t work. Polls showed that Paul Goldsmith the National candidate, was still in the lead ahead of the ACT candidate even after the tea party.

    What tipped it for John Banks and the ACT Party was the 3,000 votes that went to David Parker which was the exact same margin that John Banks scraped in on.

    The photos tell it all.

  2. I hope that the Greens will consider not standing a candidate in Ohariu at this election. Charles Chauvel (Lab) and Gareth Hughes (Gr) in total collected more votes than Peter Dunne, so if the Greens stand aside and advise voters to tick the Labour candidate, Dunne will likely lose. And that can only be a good thing.

    • Haha, busted.
      Greens and Labour have to work together. Stop blaming each other, you’re both as useless as each other.
      Gareth Hughes can keep doing his twitting about drilling, its not like he does anything else

  3. I’m still confused as to why we have “thresholds” at all. If a political party is able to convince enough people to support them in order to gain even a single seat in parliament, why should they be told they’re not allowed to have that seat?

    Parliament is supposed to be representative, so why is it that only parties who are able to achieve more than 5% of voters who favour them above all other parties are allowed to sit in the House of Representatives? Why is a party who is chosen to represent 4, 3, even 2% of the voting population not worthy, unless they’re able to convince people in a single area that they’re a better representative than the opposition?

    Unless I can be convinced otherwise, it’s my opinion that the threshold should be scrapped entirely, and anyone who’s able to achieve the number of votes required to gain a single representative in parliament should be allowed to do so. Otherwise, the people who vote for a party which does not reach the 5% threshold have no representatives in parliament, and their votes are effectively wasted. The alternative would be some kind of STV system for if a party does not meet the threshold (which should be implemented for the electorate seat votes regardless), but that still doesn’t fix the issue of proper representation.

  4. No matter what and no matter who . We’ll still end up with a greedy pack of bastards .
    270,000 poverty stricken kids and I don’t see any politician foregoing the fat end of his or her salary .

    A rich Christian Right winger with a fake smile should worry any human being though .

    • “No matter what and no matter who . We’ll still end up with a greedy pack of bastards . 270,000 poverty stricken kids and I don’t see any politician foregoing the fat end of his or her salary. A rich Christian Right winger with a fake smile should worry any human being though ”

      I’m a centre right voter, with a Christian faith but as a general rule tend to despise most people who call themselves Christian, and I completely agree with you.

      The thing with politics though is that as voters we are in a catch-22 – these troughers are doing a job that most of us would rather stick nails in our hands than do so we are kind of stuck with them & their troughing ways.

      In an ideal world we wouldn’t need so much legislation & the huge number of pen pushers that go with it (politicians are of course just the front of a massive troughing bureaucracy) as the masses would be self-sufficient, emotionally mature and capable of doing the right thing because it is the right thing to do, rather than because the law says so.

      But because that is called idealism for a reason we are forever stuck with some form of the status quo.

      Personally I am in favour of FPP as the smaller parties don’t keep the big ones honest and all MMP has done is expand the number of troughers lining their snouts up in the trough. A vote to a smaller party is I think largely wasted as they are always more extreme, more idealist yet the second they start to collect that lovely pay check they just go for whatever is the most politically expedient; no mining the Greens say as they purchase their smart phones, TVs, get driven around in the latest BMW, purchase their $4000 jackets & eat packaged food. It would seem mining for them is OK if it only destroys other people’s landscapes. And the right wingers are no different – lots of bluff, bluster & BS from an idealistic bunch of seriously rich pricks who have probably never paid what they ought in taxes. To me they are no different to those on welfare who produce the 270,000 starving children. Both groups are taking advantage of a small number of people (10-13%) who actually pay their fair share.

  5. “Something similar happened in 2001 when many people gifted Banks the Auckland mayoralty by voting for Matt McCarten instead of Chris Fletcher”

    The difference between Banks and Flectcher + McCarten was only 425 votes.

    I think it is quite wrong to assume that Fletcher would have picked up all of Matt’s votes had he not stood. Given Matt got 15,785 votes, it seems likely that far more than 425 McCarten voters would not have bothered to vote if the choice was between two former National party cabinet ministers.

    In that case Labour made a mistake effectively endorsing Fletcher, rather than finding a decent centre-left candidate that could have benefited from centre-right vote splitting between Fletcher and Banks.

    Metiria Turei of the Greens also stood in the 2001 Auckland City Mayoral election.

    In my view the accusations aimed at McCarten that he ‘split the vote’ were an attempt at cover for right wing power brokers in the Labour party who made a strategic mistake when they tacitly endorsed Fletcher (Tizzard did so more openly).

    Fletcher also warned of the dangers in vote splitting in 2004, and ended up being placed a distant third.

Comments are closed.