What oh what will the Electoral Commission recommend in its review of MMP? And will MPs be willing to play ball?
Remember how we voted to keep MMP last November? The off-shoot of that was the Electoral Commission having a look at how the system could be tweaked. That review's out tomorrow and many are expecting some positive changes.
The smart money is that the threshold for getting your party into parliament will drop from 5 percent to 4 percent. That will mean a little less wasted vote on some occasions.
In previous MMP elections, a party's got between 4 and 5 percent on three occasions: The Christian Coalition in 1996 (4.33%), New Zealand First in 1999 (4.26%) and New Zealand First again in 2008 (4.07%). That meant thousands of votes that went nowhere in parliament, so it makes sense.
Of course there's an argument it should go even lower, as people such as our own Andrew Geddis have argued. But the only political party backing that is Mana, which reckons it could go to 0.8%, about what a single seat is worth.
As Hone Harawira said on Q+A, "other factions within the community whose views are simply not getting in". A lower threshold would mean the chance for more voices.
But let's think practically about that. It would have meant a seat for Bill and Ben in 2008 and Destiny in 2005. Maybe that's well and good. Maybe if the threshold had been lower people would be careful with their vote and not back a joke party such as Bill and Ben.
Sure, it makes sense to lower the threshold to encourage new parties. Mana was the last new party to be born, and that was on the back of a defection from another party, not the rise of some new person or idea. But what other voices are missing from parliament? A Pacific party? Christians?
Does Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis deserve a seat? (It only got 0.5% last year so wouldn't even make it under Mana's plan. Although if sympathetic people had known it could get in, it may well have got an extra 0.3%). Do we want to risk more single issue parties?
New Zealand First wants the threshold kept at 5 percent, which seems altruistic given that it's cost them at two elections and a 4 percent threshold would make life easier for them. But it would also make life easier for the Conservatives, ACT and even United Future, so perhaps NZF is still suiting itself. (Although to be fair, it's always backed 5 percent).
Winston Peters says it offers more stability.
"I’ve seen the sort of MMP systems where they have very low thresholds and the thing’s chaos from start to finish".
The likes of Rob Salmond says there's no evidence of that.
Harawira also says a lower threshold would mean more voters. I'm not sure I buy that. I think people stayed away from the polls last year for all kinds of reason, and having the chance to elect the ALCP or Democrats or someone new will make little difference.
I suspect the public will cheer loudest for a recommendation to remove the coat-tailing one-seat rule that has seen ACT prosper so in Epsom (and UF to a lesser degree in Ohariu). It'll mean a slight hit to proportionality (one reason why curiously both National and the Greens oppose it), but it seems instinctively fairer to people who ask why Epsom should get to elect five MPs.
Perhaps the Commission will tell parties they should elect their own lists, or party member should have more say on list rankings. I can see pros and cons there. It's more democratic, but the party's committees and boards will have inside knowledge about candidates that the rank and file won't have, which may be significant. On the other hand it could stop leaders' favourites getting high rankings.
Then there's the ratio of electorate:list MPs. I'm tempted to have more electorate MPs than that current 70 out of 120. It's a move that would de-power the party machines a little, allowing a few more MPs to owe their loyalties to local folk rather than head office. That's a little simplistic, I know -- it's not like electorate MPs have a long history of independent action or thought in this country under FFP or MMP. for example. But it's a nudge in the right direction.
The parties will be reluctant, and a few more stroppy backbenchers could be just the ticket.
It seems to me that all parties will be under immense pressure to toe the line on this one. The Electoral Commission are like the pure oracles coming down from the mountain when it comes to this kind of thing. Having said that, we have a 5 percent threshold only because MPs ignored a royal commission, so there could be resistance.
National argued to keep coat-tailing and a 5 percent threshold, but as things are panning out the contrary may suit them very nicely. Bye-bye UF and ACT, hello Conservatives and potential king-maker New Zealand First. Though any push to have more democracy round lists could be strongly opposed.
The Commission have been tight as a drum on this one -- no-one, not even the MPs or party leaders, know what's in tomorrow's report. Believe me, I've been asking all over. So I and everyone else could be utterly wrong. But it'll be interesting to see what comes and how bold its willing to be.
What would you like to see change?