More From Down Under ...

As I alluded to in my previous post, the NZ election, while attracting less press in Canada than the results in Germany, also ended in a near-tie, with various possibilities being tossed around as to whether the current Labour government and its partners will be replaced by the National (conservative) Party and its partners.

Part of the confusion is due to the fact that nobody was quite sure who the various smaller parties would end up "partnering" with, with some exceptions.

(One of those exceptions was ACT, which calls itself "the liberal party". Indeed it is "liberal", in the classical sense of the word - free trade, free markets, personal liberties, that kind of thing. It's the party I would've likely voted for had I been able to vote in NZ, and I'm glad they made it back into parliament, albeit by the skin of their teeth.)

Most of the smaller parties were playing their cards close to the vest in the immediate aftermath of the election, and not saying who they would support, although things may have settled down by now.

How did NZ end up with so many smaller parties? It uses what I think is an interesting system of part proportional representation, part first-past-the-post. As best as I can understand it, it works like this (and I apologise if I am way off base):

* There are a fixed number of "regular" constituencies, which elect MPs much the same way as we do (call these "constituency seats").

* However, voters get another ballot, which lists the various parties. This vote is to fill a non-fixed number of seats (call these "PR seats").

* If a party gets 5% of the "party vote" or more nation-wide, it's awarded a certain number of PR seats, based on its percentage of the vote. If a party gets less than 5%, it doesn't get any PR seats, unless ...

* If a party wins even 1 "constituency seat", it not only gets that seat, it also picks up however many "PR seats" it would have received if the 5% threshold didn't exist. This is how ACT managed to survive: it only received about 1.5% of the vote, but its leader won his own "constituency seat", so he and one other ACT MP (who will get a "PR seat") were elected.

* As a result, the total number of "PR seats" - and therefore, the total size of parliament as a whole - isn't known until you figure out how many parties met the 5% threshold, and how many managed to dodge the threshold altogether by winning at least 1 "constituency seat".

* More troublesome from my point of view, there are some seats (4, I think) that are specifically allocated for the Maori (aboriginal) population. I'm not quite sure whether only Maoris can vote for those seats, or whether they are "regular" seats that happen to be located in areas with a high Maori population, or what. If it's the former, I have to say that the notion of raced-based seats (or cultural-based seats, or what have you) is something that I don't like, but that appears to be the way of things in NZ.

Sounds like a heck of a way to run a railroad, eh? Political junkies like me would no doubt love trying to figure out the various strategies involved, but I suspect many folks who are comfortable with the "first-past-the-post" system we have in Canada would run for the hills before adopting the NZ method.

As I've said, this sort of to-and-fro doesn't mean we shouldn't change the way we elect MP's in Canada - on balance, I for one am still quite open to the idea - but it does mean we should give that idea some close scrutiny.

Finally, this fellow seems to be coming at things from a mildly centre-left point of view, but he manages to explain the various combinations and permutations that may result out of New Zealand's "near-tie".

More later.


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