The Small Party Problem

The Conservatives and Internet Mana are out, but there are still too many small parties. We’ve come up with a novel new solution to the problem: why not institute a six-seat threshold for electorates? Any party that wins fewer than six electorates shouldn’t be represented in Parliament. If an electorate vote is won by a candidate from a party that doesn’t reach the threshold, the seat in question should be awarded to the nearest runnerup from a major party instead. Brilliant!

Oh, wait, no, that’s a terrible idea.

But it’s exactly the same principle as the threshold for the party vote. Why disenfranchise tens of thousands of voters spread throughout the country, when the same number of voters could easily get their candidates into Parliament if they happened to live in the same geographical area? There’d be widespread outrage if the wishes of voters in an electorate were disregarded in such a manner.

Whatever you think of the Conservatives’ politics (and we could certainly come up with a few objections), nearly a hundred thousand people voted for them – many times more than the votes received by Peter Dunne or ACT – and they should get a share of seats in Parliament to match. Similarly, there’s no reason Internet Mana shouldn’t have two seats in Parliament.

And it’s not just a case of parties not getting the seats that they’re entitled to; the threshold also distorts voting patterns themselves. People choose not to vote for their real preferences because they fear their vote will be wasted – a self fulfilling prophecy – or to manipulate the outcome of an electorate vote where a minor party or independent might win. This is not good for our country.

The fear of small parties holding the government hostage is a ridiculous relic of the adversarial FPP system. If smaller parties aren’t willing to be reasonable, there’s nothing stopping Labour and National forming a coalition government together instead. Yes, they have some real policy differences – but so do Labour and the Greens, or National and the Conservatives, or NZ First and everybody else. Both the big two are neoliberal parties aiming to appeal to centrist voters, and they have far more in common than they like voters to think.

The party vote threshold does nothing but harm democracy in New Zealand, and should be eliminated entirely. The real problem isn’t the possibility of a few more small parties getting in to Parliament, it’s that “none of the above” was the second most popular party choice in the country. More than a million Kiwis who were eligible to vote chose not to do so. A serious effort needs to be undertaken to find out why they didn’t vote, and most importantly, what could be done to change their minds in future.