• Our Democratic Process Worked

    The formation of a Labour-led coalition government will be celebrated by many – and even for those who would have preferred a different outcome, there are grounds for optimism and satisfaction.  The new government may not please everyone, but we can all feel encouraged that democracy in New Zealand worked well and is in good heart.

    MMP, contrary to the views of some, did what it was supposed to do.  It allowed each community (for which read electorate) to elect the representative of their choice.  At the same time, it ensured that we have a representative parliament in which a party that could not command even a one-vote  majority was not allowed (as it would have done under first-the-past-the- post) to walk off with all the spoils and under no obligation to take account of anyone else.

    Small parties that could not clear the threshold of at least one elected MP or at least 5% of the total vote fell by the wayside and were therefore unable to affect the final result.  The result?  Parties with a significant level of support, but none of which had an actual majority, were able to talk to each other about which combination of them stood the best chance, on the basis of common policies and most accurately reflecting the will of the people, of forming an effective and stable government.

    Yes, the process of discovering the identity of that optimal combination took some time, as it needed to, if the detailed and hard work needed to arrive at the outcome with the best chance of success was to be thoroughly carried through.  By comparison with how long other countries habitually take over such a process, ours was completed in the blink of an eye.

    Perhaps the most pleasing aspect of the eventual outcome, at least from the viewpoint of a former professional politician (and, I think, reasonably dispassionate observer), is that the outcome accords with the political logic.  This was no maverick toss of the coin.  It was always in my view most likely that New Zealand First would opt to work with Labour.  They share many of the same policy perspectives and, most importantly, both declared themselves to be deliberately focused on change.  The outcome they have produced is in tune with the majority mood – the sense that we can do better.

    Winston Peters was surely right to warn that, unless we make some changes, tougher times lie ahead.  Much of our claimed economic success rests on consumption, asset inflation and borrowing – even our modest GDP growth looks less impressive on a per capita basis once new arrivals are stripped out of the statistics.

    Perhaps the most significant statement of the whole campaign was the reason Winston Peters gave for his decision.  Capitalism (for which read “neo-liberalism”), he asserted, has failed many of our people; the fruits of what passes for our success have passed them by.  He seems to have tried quite specifically to identify the best chance of overcoming that growing, divisive, and potentially dangerous problem.

    It is not just that we should welcome the recognition by our leading politicians that so many of our fellow-citizens feel that “the system” does not work for them and serves only the interests of an elite.  We are all entitled to congratulate ourselves on the fact that this potentially ticking time-bomb has produced in New Zealand, not a Donald Trump or some other extremist, but a broadly based and secure government that is committed to considered policies that will address the problem.

    There will be those who, given the chance, will pull faces and roll their eyes to emphasise their view that the outcome is “a mess”.  One can understand that their disappointment – even anger – at the outcome might lead to such unthinking reactions.  But most of us, even those who may have voted for a different outcome, should take comfort from the fact that the good sense of the New Zealand voter and the strength of our political institutions have again prevailed.  We remain a country that deserves to head international ratings for the effectiveness of our democracy.  Let us all now work together so that we can reap the rewards.

    Bryan Gould

    20 October 2017



  1. Patricia says: October 19, 2017 at 11:35 pmReply

    I agree Bryan. It is a good outcome. Talking and talking and more talking is the best way to solve a problem or reach an outcome that benefits a greater number. Winning is never the answer. I feel much more optimistic for New Zealand. And what is more Winston made it happen.

  2. Bryan Gould says: October 20, 2017 at 3:13 amReply

    Thanks Patricia – credit where it’s due.

  3. mikesh says: October 20, 2017 at 8:03 amReply

    ¨Small parties that could not clear the threshold of at least one elected MP or at least 5% of the total vote fell by the wayside and were therefore unable to affect the final result.¨

    I would take this as an indication that the system, as it stands, has not ¨worked¨. A significant portion of the electorate, having voted for parties like the Opportunities Party, the Maori Party, and perhaps one or two others, have been effectively disenfranchised. With a zero threshold these parties may well have supported a National led government and brought about a completely different, and perhaps even fairer, result. Albeit a result that you and I may have considered less preferable.

  4. Bryan Gould says: October 25, 2017 at 11:20 pmReply

    Votes cast for a losing party of whatever size, under any electoral system, can be regarded as “wasted” on this view. The issue that our system of MMP is trying to resolve is the possibility that a tiny slice of opinion could have a disproportionate influence on the direction of a government.

  5. mikesh says: October 26, 2017 at 10:00 pmReply

    It is generally assumed that ¨opposition¨ is a valuable function in a parliamentary system. Parties which, by dint of their small size, are likely to have little influence, are still entitled to oppose, and express their opposition in the house. If they are found to have an ¨undue¨ influence on government, then the problem lies with the party which allows itself to be ¨unduly¨ influenced.
    A party whose policies are too outlandish, eg the AfD party in Germany, would have little influence on the direction of government in any case.

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