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Electoral Systems Essay

Critically evaluate the argument that electoral systems can produce effective (decisive) government, or representative government, but not both. New Zealand’s current electoral system is MMP or Mixed Member Proportional; this is the system which will be used to evaluate the question. A comparison of MMP and FPP or the First Past the Post system will also be included, since it is being debated as to which is better for New Zealand. MMP is an appropriately representative government which also creates a rather effective government at the same time.

On the other hand FPP causes a seemingly effective government but is far less representative. Some electoral systems can create effective and representative government while others may not. This will be shown by; firstly detailing how these systems of governance compare under effectiveness and representativeness, followed by an explanation as to why electoral systems can be both effective and representative and why they cannot. For a government to be classified effective it must sufficiently achieve its objectives as a governing body. It also must create a strong impression on the community (dictionary. om, 2011).

MMP tends to have a less efficient form of law making than FPP. Under MMP the major parties must form coalition governments with the smaller parties to form a fifty per cent majority over the house. These coalitions may cause a time delay in passing legislation, as the major supporter of the bill tries to convince their support parties to agree with the legislation. MMP may take time to make decision but this doesn’t mean that the government is less decisive although; Many people argue that proportional forms of government lead to a less decisive and durable government.

Their argument is based on the fact that the decisions must gain the support of coalition parties which cause a lower quantity of bills passing. However it is not the quantity of laws which cause an effective government it is the quality. MMP due to its more timely approach to law making allows time for scrutiny within a bill meaning any flaws which lie dormant in a bill may be fixed before the legislation is passed. A contrast to this is FPP with its single party majority which works very efficiently to pass laws rapidly.

This is because there is no need for a compromise with its support parties since none are required. The effect of this rapid law making ability gives the community a view of effectiveness however the validity of the laws has been compromised. The laws passed may be riddled with flaws which really show the government is un-effective as the laws have no real impression on the community. Effective government is based around three criteria government durability, decisional efficacy and responsiveness (Boston, Church & Bale, 2003).

From these three different terms of effective government we can see how different opinions on the idea of effective government can differ. For a government to be classified representative it must consist of many individuals who represent a variety of different constituencies (dictionary. com, 2011). Also there must be some form of diversity among the constituencies such as race or gender differentiation. (Royal Commission, 1986) MMP is a highly representative form of governance as it uses a two votes system; this allows minor party representatives to gain a seat in the house if they gain a majority vote among their constituents.

The fact an MP has to win their constituency causes a close link to the electorate as they will more likely than not represent the major view of the region. This single MP vote allows the house to represent the community from a broader aspect while still having the majority party in power with the 2nd vote, the party vote. This causes a greater diversity among the house. When MMP was adopted “Maori representation increased from 5-7% to 16%” and “the number of women of women doubled to 34%” (Haddon, 2011). This increasing diversity has continued as the royal commission predicted.

New Zealand’s house of parliament has become more representative and diverse as shown by the 39 women, 21 Maori, 4 Pacific Islanders, and 2 Asian MPs out of the 121 in the house (Elections Commission, 2006). Also under MMP campaign promises of minor parties tend to not get placed on the new government agenda. The minor parties must rely on negotiation with party leaders in order to get their main policies on the agenda or must wait for the bill to be drawn from the ballot box in parliament, which may never come. This causes a slight decrease in the diversification of the legislation passed.

This lack of diversification can decrease the representativeness of the majority. However this does not decrease the overall representativeness of the government. The diversity of MMP is contrasted by FPPs system where there are only electorate votes so people tend to vote solely for the major parties that are likely to get into parliament. The winning party in a FPP election will get a proportionally larger share of the seats that its share of the votes this has the opposite effect for minority parties whom gain a lesser proportion of the seats that their votes.

This lack of proportionality is a major flaw in representation as there is very little diversity among the house. Electoral systems can be both effective and representative, “The best voting system for any country will not be one which meets any of the criteria completely but will be one which provides the most satisfactory overall balance between them” (Royal Commission, 1986). Although systems cannot be highly representative and highly effective they still can be both.

MMP shows this, it may not be highly efficient at creating effective legislation but it creates quality legislation which is effective governing. Also MMP shows its representativeness by having a largely diverse house of representatives but due to the need for coalitions loses some of the broader views of the minor parties. “A proliferation of minor parties actually increases stability and effectiveness” (“NRT on MMP threshold,” 2011). This shows how a representative government actually helps to form an effective government.

The increase in the number of coalition majorities available will help to reduce the ability for any party to have strong bargaining power over another. This was shown in our most recent parliamentary election by ACT and the Maori party not having a large bargaining power with National as they both had possible coalitions with National. They were acting as a check on the other so neither gained an arbitrary power over Nationals decision. This allowed for national to make what they saw as the best decision. This shows that MMP is representative as well as being effective even if it is not top in each discipline.

Many critics of MMP have agreed that MMP does lead to a government reflecting the views of New Zealander’s and supporters of MMP conceded to agreeing that it leads to a more unstable government which can infer that it may be not highly effective (Palmer & Palmer, 2004). While FPP contrasts MMP it shows the opposite idea. It shows that there is a tension between effective and representative government. This tension causes a highly representative government to have a very low effectiveness and vice versa.

The tension has large effect on how the government operates and this can put a strain on which system will be best. FPP shows how a system cannot be both effective and representative whereas MMP seems to have the balance between being both an effective form of governance while still being rather highly representative. My research has shown that MMP is both an effective form of government and a representative form of government. However it is neither the most representative nor the most effective. The research has identified that an electoral system can be both as I have explained above.

This is not to say all electoral systems are. There are always going to be strengths and weaknesses to an electoral system and a compromise between effective and representative will always be required, FPP for example is much more effective than it is representative. The tension between these two disciplines will always have an effect on how the system operates and which system is best suited to the situation. FPP is clearly a system which cannot be both while MMP is the perfect example of a system of governance which is both representative and effective.


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