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Democracy

As a New Zealander, I know Proportional Representation can work

As someone who has only known a country to elect our parliament under MMP I can vouch for it as the best system to strike an equal balance of proportionality and direct constituency representation“.

Louis Donovan

With 11.6% of the vote, you would assume the Liberal Democrats would be left with around three times as many MPs as the SNP who only received 3.9% of the vote. We know this is wrong as only a system like First Past The Post would mean 11.6% of the vote is 11 seats and 3.9% is 48. This is no endorsement or attack on either of these party’s; this is just an example of the flawed system which currently decides the fate of the UKs political trajectory.

New Zealand held a binding referendum in 1993 alongside its general election to determine whether or not we should adopt Mixed Member Proportional as our electoral system. It passed and since then we have parliaments which are diverse in both political ideology and in the MPs who sit in our House of Representatives. As a New Zealander looking in at the UK, I am mystified by the outdated and ineffective voting system currently employed.

Mixed Member Proportional is the electoral system used in New Zealand, Germany, and a few other nations. MMP works by electing MPs through two ways. Firstly there are your electorate or constituency MPs who are still elected in a first past the post system. MPs elected in this manner have a responsibility to work for their electorate and give constituents a clear idea of who they can take their concerns to. The other way MPs are then elected is through party lists. Voters, after voting for their constituency MP, can then vote for a party they feel best represents them or who they want to see in parliament. Prior to the election, parties publish a public list of candidates which includes both consistency candidates and list only candidates. Following the election, a party’s party vote gives them an allocation of seats which after the constituency MPs take their seats, is topped up by these list MPs.

Lets say in a hypothetical parliament of 100 MPs that the Magenta party wins 8 constituencies but received 20% of the party vote. Those 8 MPs would take their seats and the other 12 list MPs would be elected from the list starting at number 1 down until all 20 MPs are elected.

First, people can vote for a local member of parliament from one party but then they are able to cast their party vote for someone completely different. As it currently stands, your constituency MP directly affects the make up of Parliament and in turn, who is in government. MMP gives you a chance to keep your local MP even if you politically disagree with them. In New Zealand at our most recent election, the Labour Party won the party vote in 71 of the 72 electorates but the National party still held a number of electorates while the Green Party and the Maori Party both still won a seat each. It has been common under this system for smaller parties to hold electorates while the party vote in those seats flow to other parties.

Secondly, MMP allows for greater representation of women, ethnicities and sexualities. It also allows for parties to have MPs based in areas where they might not usually have representation. List MPs help parties to bring in diverse candidates who either don’t run in a constituency or who actually are best served on the list. In New Zealand, both major parties have selected candidates whose job it is to engage with minority groups and bring their voices to parliament.

As someone who has only known a country to elect our parliament under MMP I can vouch for it as the best system to strike an equal balance of proportionality and direct constituency representation.

Written by Louis Donovan is a second-year student at Victoria University of Wellington (New Zealand) studying Political Science, International Relations, Public Policy and International Business.

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