Electoral gerrymanders and democracy under MMP



I don’t follow social media closely at all. I have too much to do without taking much notice of who’s saying what to who about whichever issue. It means I find myself a bit out of the loop sometimes on important commentary.

So I was astonished to learn that quite a few people who should know better – mainly people from Labour’s right wing but also some in the media – are calling the Internet Mana alliance a rort on the democratic system. They are saying it’s just the kind of dirty deal National is doing to get more MPs such as Peter Dunne and John Banks into parliament via the Epsom and Ohariu electorates.

What rubbish. National is abusing the electoral system with its arrangements while Internet-Mana is fighting against a rort on our democracy.

National’s arrangements have the effect of getting some National votes counted twice while Internet-Mana are trying to ensure our supporters get their party votes counted just once rather than being discarded.

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Spelling it out looks like this:

National gets its proportion of seats in parliament according to the number of party votes it receives. Fair enough. But then it gifts two of its electorate seats – Epsom and Ohariu – to other parties on the basis they guarantee they will support National to form a government. It’s a blatant abuse of MMP and National is about to extend the deal to the Conservatives as well.

It’s an electoral gerrymander – nothing less.

On the other hand the Internet-Mana strategic alliance is simply an attempt to ensure that anyone who votes for the Internet Party will now have that vote counted rather than being wasted because National refuses to reduce the 5% threshold, as recommended by the Electoral Commission. This means that if the Internet Party was on its own and received say 4% of the party vote that would be more than 100,000 New Zealanders whose party votes would not be counted even once, let alone twice.

By aligning with Mana, the Internet Party votes will count because Hone Harawira has his electorate seat, which he will retain. It’s an arrangement which enhances democracy because it ensures more party votes are actually counted.

Mana’s position has always been that MMP should mean MMP. In other words the 5% threshold should be dropped and if a party gains enough votes to get a single MP elected on the party vote then that’s what should happen.

The big parties – National and Labour – however pressured to have the 5% threshold and make it almost impossible for smaller parties.

The right wing have always struggled to accept democracy and over the centuries have vigorously fought to maintain undemocratic systems which give them electoral advantage. National is no different.

Even the history of the modern era is littered with examples such as in 1981 when Muldoon’s National government lost the popular vote (overall it got less votes than Labour) but retained control of parliament by winning more seats. (For the record Labour got 39.01% of the overall vote but just 43 seats whereas National got 38.77% but 47 seats)

Some people in Labour and the media need to wake up and call a gerrymander a gerrymander and call a strategic alliance such as Internet-Mana an attempt to enhance democracy.


  1. True…

    But only because the left (read, Labour) can’t stomach the idea of doing what National did in Epsom. They won’t do it in Hone’s seat and they won’t do it anywhere else.

    I do wish they would just get over themselves *sigh*

    I do agree that the lower limit needs to be just dropped. If a minor party gets enough votes to elect one list MP then those voters should be represented in parliament. If for example NORML received enough votes to have an MP elected, then good on them. Its hardly going to lead to an unstable government and economic destruction. But to listen to the right wing, that’s exactly what would happen.

  2. John, I have long been a supporter and admirer of your principled stand on many things.

    However, saying that use of coat-tails by the right is a gerrymander but use by the left “enhances democracy” has a very string whiff of double standard.

    And yes, the threshold needs to be dropped (IMO to about 2.5 to 3%).

    • Have a read of the article again, he’s saying the system is set up in a way that works best for the establishment.

      John’s also saying that the right benefits from getting votes counted twice in Epsom and Ohariu which is different to IMP which is just trying to get it’s votes counted once.

      We need to be get outside the assumptions of mainstream debate to understand some of this stuff – one of the assumptions is that Hone Harawira is a crazy man and anything is justified to keep him out

  3. I’m sorry John. I can’t see the difference between National’s gerrymandering and Internet-Mana’s proposed one. Both parties are trying to increase the possibility of coat-tailing on Hone Harawira’s Tai Tokerau seat. To its credit Labour has not done this with any minor party. They wait the outcome of the election which is what all parties should do. That’s democracy. Labour has refused to let Hone have an easy ride in Tai Tokerau just for the sake of the odd “left” seat. That’s also democracy.

  4. In addition to changing current coat tailing tules, why is no one talking about counting votes in electorate seats according to the preferential system of counting? That would eliminate the ridiculous lottery of ‘tactical’ voting.

  5. Ask yourself, if ACT and the Conservatives would doing a similar deal, would you still be calling it “an attempt to enhance democracy”.

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