After a non-binding referendum in 1992 and then a binding referendum 1993 New Zealand’s existing First Past the Post (FFP) voting system was changed to a system of proportional representation known as Mixed Member Proportional (MMP). The first elections to use this electoral protocol were held in 1996.

FPP

Under FPP voters simply voted once for the candidate in their electorate, the candidate who received the most votes gained a seat in parliament. The party who won the most seats won the election.

One of the characteristics of the FPP system was that it encouraged strong, single party governments whose share of the seats in parliament was often greater than its share of overall votes.

MMP – How it Works

Under MMP voters each get two votes:

  • An electorate vote, which they use to vote for their local candidate.
  • A party vote, which they use to vote for a particular political party.

There are 120 seats in the New Zealand parliament. Every candidate who wins his or her electorate gets one of these seats. However, there are only 70 electorates across the country (63 general and 7 Maori). Therefore, 50 seats have to be allocated by other means. This is where the party vote comes in.

These extra 50 seats are called “list” seats and are filled from a list of party members who have not won an electorate (and who may not even have run for election). The MPs who hold such seats are known as List MPs. How many of these list seats each party is entitled to depends on how may party votes each party gets.

5% Threshold

To be eligible for list seats a political party must win at least 5% of the total party votes. If a party does not reach this 5% threshold they are excluded, and the list seats are allocated across all remaining parties who do cross the threshold.

How List Seats are Allocated.

There is a common misconception that the number of list seats a party gets depends on the percentage of the party vote that that party wins. This is not the case.

In order to allocate list seats, the chief electoral officer applies the Sante Lague formula. This involves dividing the total number of party votes held by each party that crosses the 5% threshold by a sequence of odd numbers starting at 1 (1, 3, 5, 7, 9…etc.). This will produce a set of results known as quotients for each party. The 120 numerically highest quotients across all parties correspond to the 120 seats available in parliament.

So, for instance, if Party X ends up with 45 quotients in the top 120 they are entitled to 45 seats in parliament.

List MPs come into the picture when a party does not have enough elected MPs (determined by the electorate vote process) to fill all of its allocated seats (a situation which nearly always occurs)

In the example above, if Party X won only 30 electorates it would be entitled to fill the remaining 15 seats of its total seat allocation with List MPs.

Two Sides of the Coin

As MMP allows seats in parliament to be filled with MPs who haven’t been elected it has resulted in greater diversity within parliament. The numbers of women, Pacific Islanders and Asians within the ranks of MPs have all increased from FPP days.

On the downside, MMP can make it difficult for the majority party to wield sufficient power and necessitates deal-making between parties to achieve effective government. Some critics have also noted that there is a possibility List MPs may be less responsive to the wishes of the electorate as they do not depend on electorate voters for their seat in Parliament.

To see one man’s personal view of MMP, check out this video.

How to Understand MMP, 5.0 out of 5 based on 3 ratings

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