The coat-tail rule and democracy

Allow me to fly in the face of an accepted truth in NZ politics by saying this: there is absolutely nothing undemocratic about the MMP “coat-tail” rules.

This has quickly become the meme du jour around the Internet/Mana alliance (and I keep using the A-word very deliberately, because there’s an important precedent which people keep ignoring!) as propounded by Patrick Gower:

… Laila Harré is wrecking MMP.

Hone Harawira is wrecking MMP.

And Kim Dotcom is wrecking MMP.

They are using Harawira’s seat and MMP’s “coat-tail” rule to get a back-door entry into Parliament.

It is a rort.

It is a grubby deal, made all the worse by the fact Harawira holds the Te Tai Tokerau seat – a Maori seat.

As both mickysavage at The Standard and Danyl at Dim-Post have noted, there’s a funny little irony here: National had the opportunity to reform MMP, but they didn’t – because, we can probably assume, they thought they’d be hurting their own chances by doing so. (And they thought ACT would be able to lift its polling numbers.) Now, their failure to act is biting them on the arse.

But there’s another point – a point I can make by strategically editing an anonymous Stuff editorialist writing on the coat-tail rule:

A weakness of the mixed-member proportional system [is that it] … allows a party … to gain seats according to the proportion of the party vote.

Hang on a tick. It’s a weakness of MMP that parties gain seats proportional to their share of the party vote? Isn’t that how MMP is meant to work?

I agree, there is unfairness in MMP, but it’s not the “coat-tailing” – it’s the plight of parties which don’t win electorate seats.

Take New Zealand First. In 1999, they received 4.26% of the vote – not enough to cross the threshold, but because Winston held Tauranga, they gained 5 seats. But in 2008, they received 4.07% of the vote and didn’t hold Tauranga – so they were out.

The real irony? Due to the increase in overall voters, New Zealand First actually received nearly 7,500 more votes in 2008 than 1999. Nearly 100,000 Kiwis’ votes were rendered void in 2008, because there was no seat to coat-tail on to.

87,000 votes got you 5 seats in 1999. 95,000 votes got you no seats in 2008. Is that fair?

Say what you like about Winston Peters and New Zealand First – but I think that kind of situation “wrecks MMP” far more than a couple of parties coming to a mutual agreement about working together to ensure their constituents have the best possible chance of being represented – fairly and proportionally – in Parliament.

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