The Front Page: Future of MMP – is it time to drop the 5 per cent election threshold?

Getting a seat in the Parliament is no easy task – even for the monied elite.

Aspirant politicians have wasted millions of dollars in recent elections trying to get a seat in Government, and an academic thinks it could be time to change the rules.

Speaking to The Front Page podcast, Massey University associate professor of politics Grant Duncan says it’s worrying that we currently only have five parties represented in our parliament.

“It has been really difficult, and a lot of money has been wasted by political leaders of small parties who failed to get seats in the house,” he said.

Duncan lists the Opportunities Party, Colin Craig’s Conservative Party and Kim Dotcom’s Internet Party as examples of parties that have simply failed to make enough headway. He says if these well-financed campaigners can’t get in, then it’s very difficult to imagine how those with less money could ever get across that five per cent line – which essentially limits the diversity of voices in our parliament.


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“There is an argument to be made for reducing the threshold to make it a little easier, but we must maintain a threshold,” he says.

“You only have to look at the Netherlands, where you have 17 parties, some of which hold just one seat, and it becomes very difficult to form a stable government.”

Beyond the tough election threshold, Duncan also sees our broader political approach of pitting Labour against National as problematic.

“We still tend to think of our system in a bipartisan way,” he says.


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“A lot of people are looking at our election and thinking that it’s essentially a contest between two political parties, or even more narrowly, two political leaders. That isn’t really what MMP was intended for.”

This is further exacerbated by the fact that the key alliances between Labour and the Greens, and National and Act are almost set in stone from one election to the next.

“I would certainly encourage the parties to be a little bit more open and creative about how they relate to one another,” Duncan says.

“At the moment, what we have is not wrong, but it’s basically pre-electoral coalitions, and the problem with that is that after the election, it really limits the ability of parties to think creatively about how to form a government.” Duncan points to 2017 as an example of how this can go wrong.

“It was quite absurd that one party leader was not only able to determine the outcome, but was to determine the process of Government formation. Winston Peters said after the election… it could wait. It is simply unacceptable to have one person determining that process.”

Duncan muses how different things might have been if the parties in Government weren’t as set in their ways.

“If the Greens and National could have been brave enough to say: ‘Well, look, we don’t need to wait for Winston Peters. We can start talking now about forming a government.’ They had the numbers between them, and the bargaining power of Peters would have been undercut immediately. But, unfortunately, the Greens were politically unable to do that.”

So, what can we learn about MMP from other countries? Are our smaller parties at risk of disappearing entirely? Why don’t we get more independent parties and politicians coming through? Do you face a risk of smaller fringe parties making their way into Parliament? And should our media change the way we run debates?

Listen to the full episode of The Front Page with Grant Duncan to hear more about how the political system works and how it could change.

• The Front Page is a daily news podcast from the New Zealand Herald, available to listen to every weekday from 5am.

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