Faith in Focus

Guest Editorial

How Should I Vote?

On Saturday 12 October, General Elections will take place for the first time in New Zealand under a system commonly called MMP.

The main interest of this election to Faith in Focus readers is to find out how to make the best use of voting. Particularly when thinking from a Biblical perspective. I have prepared this article in a question and answer format hoping it will help quickly and easily:

How did the MMP system start?

This MMP system is loosely based on the West German model devised by the Allies following World War II. The model was to ensure that no future dictator would find it easy to work the political system to their advantage as was the case in the old Weirmar Republic. In other words, plenty of checks and balances. On the other hand, it's worth noting that no other country has exactly this form of proportional representation other than Germany and New Zealand.

It may seem a strange concept for New Zealand to follow, but follow we did through public referendums in 1992 and 1993. The choice came down to MMP (Mixed Member Proportional - not, despite the increase - More Members in Parliament) and FPP (First Past the Post - the present election system).

It is a considered opinion that most people voted against the present system with a general feeling of being fed-up with politicians rather than with insight and understanding of MMP as a bright, new election system. Now, after much criticism in the media, it is difficult to find someone who admits to having voted for MMP (except for those in minority parties).

What's the outcome likely to be?

Because of the multiplicity of political parties (see chart), there is little chance that we shall know the outcome on the evening of the elections as we have on past occasions. In fact, in may be weeks after election day. The outcome could be one of three scenarios:

1. One party gathers sufficient seats to form a majority in the House of Parliament. This is unlikely but possible.

2. One party gains sufficient seats so that together with one or more friendly parties who also gained seats in the House, it can form a "coalition government". This would be the most desirable outcome.

3. No party gains sufficient seats in the House that they are able or willing to form a government with any other partners. In this case, one party may be able to govern as a "minority government" if sufficient other parties agree not to trip up the minority governing party on a finance supply bill. In this case, Parliament will continue to stumble along and will often be split along "issues" lines rather than party political lines. Not a satisfactory long term solution.

Sounds confusing? You're right it is, but that's the way New Zealand people decided.

How does this system compare with Holland?

For those readers who have European backgrounds, the negotiations and compromising that will need to go on between parties after the elections will not sound too different from what takes place in Holland or Germany or Italy. European countries have learned to live with proportional representation of various kinds where major changes to party policies are made after the elections for which people did not necessarily vote.

As well, the bureaucracies in European countries are a lot more powerful than we have in New Zealand, and this power carries the momentum of government through the periods of political negotiations. By necessity, the bureaucracy becomes more involved (and therefore more costly), to ensure the continuity that is necessary from an election until a government is formed. Think of Italy and all that country's governments that have collapsed with "new" governments being formed since 1945! Yet there is no revolution. The country continues to operate, no matter what personal views you might have on their efficiency.

My experience leads me to believe that whilst not much harm can be done with a difficult proportional representation system such as MMP, not much reform can take place either. A bureaucracy usually feeds and grows strong on a stalemate, and political apathy helps keep the status quo.

Regretfully, my observations in Holland show that the ordinary person is not greatly interested in politics under these circumstances, nor in how the country is run, or taking action to change it. Citizens might moan in private, but they leave the real lobbying to activists.

How many votes do I have?

Everyone will have 2 votes to cast in an MMP election. One for the political party of your choice, and one for the candidate you like best in your electorate. The voting paper will clearly show the two areas to tick.

Which is the most important vote?

The only vote that really counts in Parliament's final make-up is the Party Vote. The electorate vote confirms your support for a particular person who, if he or she gains the electorate, then they take precedence in Parliament over those on the Party List.

Do I vote for someone on a Party List?

No! With your Party Vote, you vote for a Party - you don't have to know anything about the people on any of the Party Lists. You have no choice among them. These candidates are chosen by their respective parties and all you can do is see who they chose to stand on these lists and in what order of importance they put them, but this has no direct relationship to your Party Vote.

How many MPs will there be?

120 - up from the 99 at present. However, some calculations suggest there might be another one or two seats if the total figure comes out a little different than expected. Remember, its a new system and no one can predict the outcome of this first MMP election.

There will be 65 electorate seats (including 5 Maori seats) and 55 Party List seats.

How is the new Parliament made up?

The number of seats a party will get in the House is determined solely by the percentage of votes cast for the Party - not for the electorate candidates. However, when the number of seats is known for any particular party, then the electorate candidates who have won their electorates fill up the first numbers with the Party List members taking up the balance.

Does the Christian Coalition have a possibility of getting in?

Out of all the "minor" parties (outside of National, Labour, the Alliance and New Zealand First), The Christian Coalition Party currently has the best opportunity of hurdling the 5% voting threshold.

All parties (unless they manage to gain an electorate seat) must have 5% or more people voting for them on the Party Vote otherwise they will not get any seats in Parliament. Even ACT and the UNITED party are below the Christian Coalition percentage according to the present polls.

Would I not be wasting my vote by voting for a small party?

Certainly not! Minor parties have to reach that 5% threshold but that is very attainable in some cases.

With UNITED, they hope to see Peter Dunne elected in the Ohariu-Belmont electorate and thus not needing to pass the 5% mark.

How should I vote?

With the Party Vote you have to weigh up the policy direction of each party. You should not necessarily think "how good a government will they make?" but rather, "how will this party influence government and how will it pursue the moral principles I see as being important," - even if you disagree with some of that party's policies - no singular party will be perfect to your tastes.

Shouldn't I vote for the person rather than the party?

Normally you would do this with your electorate vote. In other words, the candidate you see as having the most suitable moral and ethical standards, and ability to carry these out in Parliament. Naturally, you have to balance this with some consideration of the person's party policy.

With the Party Vote, you should consider primarily the party and the principles it stands for.

What about the issues of the day?

Look at these after you have considered how a party might carry out its function within policy standards that are in harmony with the Bible. Generally, the "issues of the day" can be boiled down to whether you are happy to pay more taxes to pay for more work done by a bigger government, or whether you prefer less government and more individual responsibility. Issues such as need for a stable economic environment, national superannuation benefit size, social welfare increases and hospital costs come into these categories. Some people may find their choice easy based on relationship to Biblical examples. Others may put more store in morality, ethics and principles derived from the Bible.

Can we really make a difference?

The strains put on our society over the past generation in respect of crime, drugs, illegitimacy, abortion and family breakdown gives any thinking person a great deal of concern. The breakdown of moral culture we seem to have had in the past has weakened the fabric of our society. So too have politicians' attitudes to causes where they promote the doctrine of relativism rather than absolutes in values and standards. MMP may be a God-given opportunity to stop that nefarious slide and revitalise New Zealand politics with a bit of the good, old Biblical salt and light.

But how do you really think the outcome will be?

As I said earlier, this MMP election result is anybody's guess. But to have a little fun, my view is that National will capture 38%, Labour 18%, Alliance 18%, NZ First 16%, Christian Coalition 6%, and United 4% (they may still have a share of Parliament as Peter Dunne could capture the Ohariu-Belmont electorate). Because of the acrimony that exists between certain sections of each major party, this scenario is likely to result in a minority government.

Parliament may then stumble along inefficiently for nearly three years because MPs will be too frightened to go back to the voters. History tells us that whoever calls a dissolution of Parliament is likely to get battered at the election.

Mr R.Anderson (Silverstream)

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Faith in Focus /NZ Reformed Church / / revised August 96 / Copyright 1996