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Chris Ford: Why I Support MMP And Why National Should Break Referendum Promise

Chris Ford
Chris Ford

Last week John Key said that New Zealanders could now kick the tyres of MMP at the upcoming referendum on the system to be held in conjunction with the 2011 election.

Well John, I am not so enthusiastic about getting to kick the tyres of MMP again as I feel that the system has worked well. Over the last 13 years since its introduction at the 1996 election we have had a more representative Parliament and most importantly one that has acted as a greater check on the powers of the executive branch than was previously the case.

The days when Labour and National could form a cosy two party club are well and truly over. While they still remain the most predominant parties in Parliament, their influence has been checked by having to cohabit with other parties in either straight out coalitions or support arrangements. For example, while National effectively cohabits with Act to the right, it also had to consider the views of the Maori Party and United Future to its left in the current extended confidence and supply arrangements that it has concluded in order to govern as a minority government. Therefore, the New Right extremism of Act is kept in check by the need to also gain agreement on policy and legislation from the Maori Party and United Future.

Alternatively, if we had had the old First-Past-the-Post (FPP) system at the last election, National would have won in a seat landside even though they claimed only 45% of the popular vote. This disproportionality would have secured it a healthy working majority through which it could have rammed through more privatisations and spending cuts than has been the case so far. Compared to the early 1990s National Government, this MMP National minority administration is far more moderate and only because the electoral system has good checks and balances in place.

Now, due to a John Key pledge to former Telecom executive and so-called 'Campaign for Better Government' member Peter Shirtcliffe (exposed in Nicky Hager's book 'The Hollow Men' to be a significant National Party donor), the tables are about to be turned once again in the electoral system debate with MMP supporters such as myself and former members of the Electoral Reform Coalition begin forced into defending the status quo whereas it was Shirtcliffe and his big business backed anti-MMP campaign that was in the same position at the 1993 referendum.

Therefore, there is no doubt in my mind that Shirtcliffe and his big business allies are spoiling for another fight and a return to the bad old days when the New Right and their political/business allies were able to dominate the policy agenda without question. It's not something I want to go back to and I feel that the holding of another referendum on the question is merely part of a campaign to destabilise support for MMP. And perhaps this campaign is having some effect as recent opinion polls show that while MMP is slightly ahead, FPP still retains the support of about 40% of electors.

It must be conceded that this was part of a National Party election promise and one they intend to make good on. While this is the case, I would rather that National procede to break this promise as there has been no public groundswell for a second referendum on MMP as this pledge has only been made to appease a few wealthy and powerful businesspeople who would like nothing better than a return to Business Roundtable dominance over our politics.

This is why John Key and the National Cabinet should reassess this pledge and break the promise as it would be better for us all as a country to retain MMP. Realistically, I don't see this happening but it's worth a try to merely ask.

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