Piggyback MPs

[Update: I am adding this to the Germany block, due to a discussion that has arisen in the comments.]

Under New Zealand’s variant of Mixed-Member Proportional (MMP), there are two alternative thresholds for receiving party-list seats. Either a party must obtain over 5% of the party-list vote, or else it must win a single district (electorate) and sufficient party-list votes to elect two or more MPs in total (even if its list vote is under 5%).

The latter path towards winning proportional representation seats is referred to in New Zealand as “coat-tailing”. I suppose New Zealanders can call it whatever they want, as long as it is clear to them, given that it’s their electoral system and a problem pretty much unique to them. But I don’t like the term. I understand coat tails as support on one vote (e.g. for congress) that is enhanced by having a popular candidate for another (e.g. president). But that is not what we see in New Zealand. We are talking about an alternative threshold for representation in a single institution, not voting across institutions. Moreover, a case of high coattails normally would mean reduced ticket-splitting. By contrast, in New Zealand, what seems to trouble many commentators (including the Electoral Commission in its MMP Review) is precisely incentives to ticket-split, not by abandoning a small party on the electorate vote (which might be the “normal” type of split-ticket voting under MMP), but in favor of a small party in the electorate vote. For example: National-favoring voters in Epsom voting for the local Act candidate, who had a chance at winning the electorate (and did indeed win it), but giving their list vote to National. The objection is that these voters seem to have more weight by virtue of living in a district that is so safe for one party that a small partner party can win it. But that’s not coattails, as usually understood.

In any case, this was not meant to be just a screed over terminology (though who doesn’t love such screeds?). I wanted to note that a new party in New Zealand, the Internet Party, can win seats only through this provision, whatever we might call it. The IP (good acronym for them!) has formed an alliance with the Mana Party, whose leader, Hone Harawira, has a safe Maori electorate (Te Tai Tokerau).* If Internet Mana were to win enough list votes for two seats, but elect only the one Mana candidate, then the IP would get a candidate via the list (its leader holds the number one slot on the joint list), even without coming near 5% of the list vote. In fact, about 1.3% of the vote would be sufficient.**

Yet the IP actually is against the so-called coat-tailing!

There seems to be a flaw in the process, and it is not necessarily the provision for the alternative threshold. It is in how alliances are allowed to take advantage:

In the Internet Party’s case it could potentially create a public backlash as its alliance with Mana expires just six weeks after the election.

Yes, that would seem backlash-worthy.

As for what to call this type of entry into parliament, I offer a suggestion in the title of this post.

___________
* In this electorate, Labour has done something clever: nominate its local candidate, Kelvin Davis, to a rather low list position. “His ranking of 18 would blunt a Mana tactic of asking people to vote for Mr Harawira because Mr Davis had a safe list spot and would be an MP anyway.

** A potential fly in the ointment is that Mana might elect two electorate MPs, in which case IP is out of luck, unless the list vote goes considerably higher. In fact, if you are a Maori voter in the one non-safe but within-reach electorate for Mana, and you do not happen to like the alliance with IP, your strategy is clear: vote for the Mana candidate, and you get to help block the IP.

9 thoughts on “Piggyback MPs

  1. Not sure that even now, 30 years after his departure, Nizzillindahs will accept a phrase that invokes memories of Robert Muldoon.

    • I had the same thought about ‘Piggy’ Muldoon!

      Good summary of the electoral mechanics MSS.
      The electorate’s reaction to Mana/IP will also be impacted by issues involving Kim Dotcom (a foreigner doing a very good impersonation of someone attempting to buy themselves protection from extradition IMO), and the apparent avoidance of principles by those standing for election under the banner of convenience.

  2. Most likely election result will be that National Party will win half the seats in the NZ parliament, and be one seat short of an outright majority. I would find it odd if Labour and the Greens were able to form government despite National being the largest party albeit this is possible in Nordic countries where the 2nd place party forms government (Moderates in Sweden, Conservatives in Norway, and Social Democrats in Denmark). It will be a most interesting election.

    Is this one seat electorate rule a bad thing to win list seats? It seems like it makes electorates just as important as list seats; if this rule does not exist, then only list seats would matter. Would NZ had been better off having an open party list system, and this would have never been an issue?

    In Germany, the three seat rule never seems to an issue, since it is rare for a party to win 3 seats without surpassing the 5% threshold, and I am surprised in the previous election there, that Angela Merkel’s CDU didn’t let the FDP win 3 seats, so that they could win seats in the Bundestag, and continue the alliance. Maybe most Germans would frown at this exploitation of this rule.

    What about other MMP jurisdictions and the electorate thresholds? Has anyone proposed a double threshold for MMP such as 1 seat, and 2%? Would that work?

  3. That the CDU (or CSU) does not set aside, even tacitly, some districts for the FDP to win and ensure its place in parliament often comes up as a puzzle. But I am not sure it really is. The CDU (and CSU) has good reason to maintain its distinct identity from the FDP, and vice versa. They are not competing primarily for the same pool of votes, and each has governed without the other in the past–the very recent past, even as of 2013, in the case of the CDU/CSU. I think the same issue of maintaining distinctions is true of the Greens and SPD, though perhaps less clearly. While a Green coalition with the CDU/CSU (with or without the FDP, if the latter makes it back to the Bundestag) is not immediately likely, there are clearly objective reasons for the Greens to leave it open as a possibility. There were formal negotiations over such a possibility in 2013, which broke down, but suggests neither side views a coalition as unthinkable some day. As soon as you start making deals where you don’t compete in order to ensure another party’s presence, you reduce your flexibility and send a message that your separate parties should be thought of as an ongoing joint governing alternative.

    In New Zealand, the parties that have won individual districts due to a formal or–more recently–informal agreement with a bigger party have been relatively extreme parties on the ideological spectrum, which could not imagine doing a deal with the other major party. I am speaking of the Act, Progressives (and predecessor Alliance), and Greens. The latter once won Coromandel with a wink and nod from Labour. I doubt the Greens and Labour would make such a deal in the future, mainly because the Greens no longer need it, but also because they would like to consider long-term options of cooperating with National some day, if only not to be tied to Labour too closely. (Green Party staffers that I spoke to in 2011 were quite open about this.) Act could not conceivably work with anyone other than National, and the now-defunct Progressive Coalition (Jim Anderton) was clearly just an appendage of Labour.

    In short, the party systems are just sufficiently different that cooperation, often tacit, in districts is at least sometimes feasible in New Zealand, but not in Germany.

  4. In Germany, the only party that has had piggyback MPs at least since the 1950s is the Party of Democratic Socialism (ex-GDR Communists), and it has done it only once (1994).

    It may appear as if 1990 was also such a case, but in that one election, the 5% threshold had to be surpassed only in one of the two former constituent parts, and the PDS won more than 5% in the old GDR, but not even 2.5% Germany-wide. In some of the early elections, 1949 and immediately after, the rules were likewise somewhat different, as was the party system.

    • Actually, in the 1957 Bundestag election, the conservative German Party (DP) – at the time a CDU ally – won 17 seats with just 3.4% of the second vote, by virtue of having secured six direct mandates (five in Lower Saxony, one in Hesse); CDU stood down in six single-member districts to give DP a clear run, and the latter party won in five of these (narrowly losing the sixth to SPD). DP also won on its own one direct mandate in Lower Saxony; however, CDU topped the second vote in all six districts where it stood down, while DP ranked no higher than third place.

      By the way, Germany’s 1957 general election was the first Bundestag poll held under the rules that would remain in place until 2012 (save for modifications in 1985 and 2008, pertaining to the method for allocating seats, and the special, 1990-only, two-zone threshold arrangement).

  5. I may be misremembering this, but I thought the three districts backdoor into the Bundestag allowed some small right wing parties that would otherwise had not made the threshold to survive through the 1950s.

    The SPD had considerable credibility as the one German political party to consistently oppose Hitler, and benefited from the collapse of Communist support in West Germany as the nature of the Communist regime in East Germany became clear. However at the time they were less than enthusiastic about the idea of Germany rearming and aligning itself clearly with the US and UK in the Cold War. There were a plethora of small parties, most of them resurrected versions of parties that had existed before 1932, competing for votes on the right, and what had been the dominant party on the right during Weimer, the DNVP, was too complicit in the rise of Hitler to power to resume that role.

    Adenauer essentially took the Zentrum Party, which before 1932 had been more narrowly focused on defending Catholic interests, and started hoovering up small right wing parties to build a catch-all conservative party that, unlike in the past, was pro-democracy and capable fo defeating the SPD. But this required some alliance building, which in turn required some of the other small right wing parties to survive in order to be eaten.

    The FDP’s base was the bourgeois minority in the cities, so unlike some rural based parties on the right, the three district back door didn’t benefit them, and they also had a distinct enough identity to avoid being swallowed by the CDU/ CSU. The Liberals in the UK narrowly avoided being swallowed by the Conservatives at the same time.

    Anyway, the winning three districts entitles you to additional members thing seems to have been put into the German electoral system in response to concerns only really applicable to the positioning of German political parties in the 1940s and 1950s. There was really no reason for New Zealand to copy this in the 1990s, any more than it would make sense for the Germans to institute their version of the Maori electoral roll.

    • If I recall correctly, the increase from one to three direct mandates as an alternative to the five percent threshold was triggered by the Communist Party of Germany’s attempt to secure one direct mandate in the 1953 Bundestag election. Basically, KPD sought to exploit a peculiar provision of the German electoral system – which allows voters away from their place of residence to vote in the constituency in which they happen to be located on election day – to concentrate enough voters to achieve a majority in a single constituency and therefore qualify for the distribution of Bundestag seats, even if the party fell short of the recently established nationwide threshold (a five percent threshold had been in place for the 1949 Bundestag election, but on a Land-level basis).

      If memory serves me well, the Communists held some sort of festival or conference in the targeted district to attract their voters to the location, but while they polled strongly they failed to capture the mandate (and for good measure the party’s share of second votes fell well below five percent as well). Nevertheless, the government subsequently decided to close the potential loophole by increasing to three the number of direct mandates required to bypass the threshold.

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