Should New Zealand do away with by-elections?

In New Zealand’s MMP system, there are by-elections if there is a vacancy between general elections in a single-seat district. This is not a mandatory feature of MMP systems; Germany, for example, has no by-elections. A vacancy in a district is filled off the list of the party of the vacating member.

Nigel Roberts, a leading New Zealand expert on elections and electoral systems, writes in the Dominion Post that New Zealand should end the practice of by-elections. In making the case, he refers to a by-election in the constituency of Mt Albert, which is a safe Labour seat. The Labour Party’s candidate in the by-election, Jacinda Ardern, already is an MP, via the party list. Thus the effect of her winning (which she did) is simply to shift the type of mandate she has*, and have her replaced as a list MP by the next available candidate on the Labour list from the preceding election.

Roberts suggests adding a regional component to the lists in order to ensure that the replacement is from the same region as the district in which the vacancy has occurred.

A potential problem with the proposal is the fact that sometimes a by-election really does shift who controls a district and sometimes can even change the nationwide balance between parties (as happened in a recent case in Northland district). Roberts takes the position that this is better avoided, so as not to change potentially the majority for the government. “Party votes cast in general elections should make or break governments – not electorate votes cast in by-elections,” he says.

I am curious to know what readers think of the proposal.

* As well as, sadly, deprive us of my favorite case of a list MP “shadowing” the district-elected MP.

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New Zealand flag finalist…

The first of the two rounds of deciding on a potential new flag for New Zealand has been completed. The winner is Silver Fern (Black, White, and Blue). It will go head-to-head (hoist-to-hoist?) against the current flag in a second postal ballot next March. The proposed alternative shares with the current flag the stars of the Southern Cross.

This round selected from five alternatives, using a preferential (ranked-choice) ballot. The winning option did not lead on first preferences. That leader was ” Silver Fern (Red, White and Blue)”, which had 41.76%, against 40.16% for the eventual winner. The leader in first preferences was the only one of the five designs without black in its color scheme. Apparently, via the sequential elimination and then transfer of preferences, the consensus was fern and stars with some black.

This first round originally was to be among four alternatives, but a social-media campaign of especially passionate supporters managed to get a fifth design, Red Peak, included. Red Peak, however, did not fare so well, coming in a distant third with 8.69%. Another silver fern option, which was all black and white, and a black-and-white Koru design ended up way back.

The preferences round by round suggest the Red Peak was by far the second choice for Koru supporters. When black and white fern was eliminated, its ballots put the black-white-and-blue fern design in the lead, narrowly, for the first time. This made Red Peak the swing bloc, and those ballots split 54.34%-45.66% for–perhaps a little ironically–the option with no red on it–but with that consensus black. The final count was a vote division of 50.53%-49.47% between the two fern-and-stars design.

The long list from which the five ballot contenders were selected by a panel had 39 options. The panel had 10,292 designs to sift through.

NZ Greens first block bar-opening, then relent

There was an interesting little tussle between the ACT New Zealand and the Greens this past week. The matter concerned a private member’s bill that would allow the opening of bars in the wee hours of the morning so that New Zealanders could gather to watch live matches at the next Rugby World Cup (which will be played in Britain next month).

The bill was sponsored by the sole ACT MP, David Seymour. As I understand the parliamentary procedure (with the help of some New Zealand friends), if a private member’s bill does not win the regular lottery for consideration by the House, it is possible for an MP to introduce it directly. However, this requires unanimous consent to proceed. The Greens turned down this request.

RNZ:

ACT leader David Seymour said, under his bill, licensed premises would have been able to open for an hour before a match started, and an hour after it had finished.
But the Greens’ health spokesperson, Kevin Hague, said the party could not support the bill as it had the potential to cause real harm to communities.
He said the move was a ham-fisted attempt by Mr Seymour to be a ‘man of the people’ but it actually had the potential to cause real harm to communities.
“Under David Seymour’s bill, boozed-up people will be spilling out of bars just as parents are dropping their children at school or are on their way to kids’ weekend rugby and netball games.”
Mr Seymour called the Greens “party poopers” after they blocked the bill.

However, the very next day, the Greens changed course and allowed the bill to go ahead. RNZ again:

Mr Seymour told Parliament ACT had offered to make changes to the bill to get the Greens’ support.
“Politics is often the art of compromise and if this bill emerges with at least the All Black games and finals applied to then that, I believe, will be a great victory,” he said.

The article has some brief overview of the concessions (which seem minor to me).

I have to wonder if the Greens really wanted to garner a reputation as the party that is against World Cup viewing in bars. One further report that I heard on RNZ suggested that the party took a great deal of criticism for the initial veto.

The bill seems now set to go ahead with National Party support and Labour declaring it a personal (free) vote.

By-election in New Zealand

Winston Peters, leader of the New Zealand First Party, has won a by-election in the electorate of Northland.

In the mixed-member proportional (MMP) system in New Zealand, unlike the generally similar one in Germany, by elections are held to fill vacancies in single-seat districts. In this case, the winner is a sitting list MP. So what happens next? There is no party vote in a by election, nor is the compensation mechanism engaged in any way. So when Peters relinquishes his list seat to take up the electorate, his party would be entitled to a fill the list seat with the next candidate on its own list. In other words, the party can gain a seat by this mechanism!

As it happens, NZF may not exercise its right to claim a new seat; it may simply leave the seat vacant. (Updated: It looks like NZF just might take the additional seat to which it is entitled after all.)

Peters won with a little indirect assist from the Labour Party, whose leader admitted in the days before this election that its candidate had no chance. He said that Northland voters “are going to look around and they have to make the decision about what’s best. If they want to say they are sick and tired of being neglected, they are going to have to decide how they do that and vote accordingly,” said Andrew Little.

Peters held an electorate seat as recently as 2005, Tauranga, which is rather far from Northland. He is, however, originally from Northland.

Below is a comparison the results, showing only those parties that won at least 5% of the votes in either the 2014 general election or this by election; “–” indicates the party did not run a candidate in the given election.

Party 2014 list 2014 nominal 2015 (nominal)
National 17,412 18,269 11,347
NZF 4,546 15,359
Labour 5,913 8,969 1,315
Green 3,855 3,639
Conservative 2,243 1,555
Total 35,707 35,056 28,468

The most dysfunctional and undemocratic parliament in the Commonwealth?

On ipolitics.ca, Frances Russell reviews Democratizing the Constitution — Reforming Responsible Government, by Peter Aucoin, Mark D. Jarvis and Lori Turnbull.

Russell begins the review by declaring that “Canada has the most dysfunctional and undemocratic parliament in the British Commonwealth.” She subsequently indicates that the book’s proposal is that:

Canada should follow the lead of its sister Commonwealth countries Britain, Australia and New Zealand and codify the principles of parliamentary democracy to ensure the players — voters and politicians — understand the playbook and stay within the rules.

Because themes of this sort are a frequent topic of discussion around here, I thought I would open up a new thread.

Thanks to Wilf Day for the link.

Vexing vexillological questions

New Zealand will go ahead with a referendum on its flag. In fact, two referenda, following a similar process to the electoral-system referenda that the country has held in 1992-93 and again in 2011: an initial selection from several choices, followed by a later binary choice between the status quo and the proposed change.* Both would be held in 2016. From ABC:

The first, at the end of next year, would ask the public to choose a preferred design from those selected by a panel of notable New Zealanders.

The second referendum would pit the winning new design against the current flag in 2016.

Stuff NZ has an image of one possible alternative, which retains the Southern Cross in addition to a fern. Another that is a silver fern on black has been widely discussed.**

The political parties will recommend members of “a cross-party panel”, and public consultations will follow, to select the options to be put to voters.

Questions for readers: Aside from the obvious (and, by all accounts, wildly successful) Canadian case, are there other democratic countries that have undertaken a major flag re-design?

There are, of course, numerous cases of authoritarian governments that have changed their country’s flag unilaterally. And, new democratic states have needed to adopt a flag (India, Israel, etc.). But ongoing democracies do not change their flags often. I can’t think of another case aside from Canada, but maybe someone else can.

An aside: is there any notable debate about the flag in Australia? Or other long-term democracies that anyone can report?

_________
* But apparently without the first referendum having a simple “keep or change” option in addition to a set of “change” possibilities. In the 2011 electoral-system referendum, the “keep MMP” option passed, rendering the choice among alternatives moot. Thus the second-stage referendum was not held, unlike 1992-93.

** Which, to me, looks too much like the national rugby team’s banner. Or that of ISIS.

New Zealand split-vote results released

The New Zealand Electoral Commission has released the split-voting statistics from the 2014 general election.

This is a great service provided by the Electoral Commission, showing in each electorate (district) what percentage of voters for each party list cast their vote for that party’s candidate or any other candidate in the electorate. To make it even better for those who like analyzing voting statistics, they offer CSV files.

The NZ Herald offers a summary of key electorates.