In NZ we have a Mixed Member Proportional voting system for our 121 member Parliament. The system was voted in in the 1990s. I voted for it and would still advocate for a system that reflects the diversity of the populous rather than the straight first past the post system we had before that.
But there are losses. The loss of the connection with the electorates being the major one as the electorates have become very large. Only 71 of the members of parliament represent electorates. The others, put up by the political parties may be active in the areas where they reside, but the fact remains that there is a disconnect primarily in the area of accountability. The votes to win in elections are the party votes as that ultimately determines the ruling party (either through a clear majority, or through some kind of coalition arrangement with other parties). Thus, when the general election is held, the concerns of the regions of the country are secondary to the collective vote.
We vote for the party we want rather than the candidate who represents us. In my view, this was accentuated in the last election where, in the area where I reside, the electorate MP, Hon. Gerry Brownlee, was voted in by a resounding majority, despite his virtual absence from the electorate, his unwillingness to participate in any pre-election ‘meet the candidate’ meetings, and his blatant bullying of the city of Christchurch in his role as earthquake recovery minister. If only the man would demonstrate just an ounce of a capacity to listen!
By way of contrast, when an electorate by-election was held this year, an impoverished and considerably neglected electorate, Northland, got to stamp its feet and make a statement to the government whose party had won the seat in last year’s election by a considerable majority. Granted, by-elections can be grump-fests, but it became very obvious that aside from fly-by visits and the promise of a few bridges ‘if they won’, the government had little sense of the needs of the electorate and next to no imagination in how to attend to the challenges. It opened the door for NZ’s great fluffy-duck opportunist MP, Winston Peters to grab the limelight. While that should never have happened, it is a far better situation for the electorate than what they had had to put up with for years under the previous MPs.
So what to do? I am afraid that the middle ground voters who tend to decide NZ elections have been coaxed and manipulated into a dull stupor of indifference (‘I’m ok therefore everyone is ok’, when everyone is clearly not ok!), and, the people who could make a mark – some one million potential voters, simply don’t trust anyone so they stay away from the polling booths.
I like the idea of a clutch of seasonal electorate by-elections in mid-terms. It is a way of forcing ruling governments to listen to the people and be accountable for their policies. What say we had five of these each 3 years – just enough to make the majority coalitions nervous – just enough to check and balance the purpose of representation which is at the heart of a democracy. Just a crazy idea from a frustrated voter.