In 1993 New Zealand voted for the Mixed Member Proportional (M.M.P.) system of representation to replace First Past the Post (F.P.P.). The historic vote changed how New Zealanders vote at the polls. It was an attempt to broaden the spectrum of political parties so that more fringe leaning parties such as the modern day Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand and Association of Consumers and Taxpayers (A.C.T.) could be represented.The new system as it stood in 1993 was also intended to hold in check by requiring coalition arrangements with other parties, some of the more extreme policy.
But 22 years and 7 election cycles later, are we really an M.M.P. country?
If one looks at the range of parties that have existed in the M.M.P. era, one could argue that on the first count, yes M.M.P. has succeeded in doing what it was meant to. Since 1996, in one form or another a host of minor parties have existed and been part of coalition arrangements, or formed out of disgruntlement with bigger parties. They include the Alliance, Greens, New Zealand First, Maori Party and Mana, A.C.T. have all had time in Parliament. New Zealand First and the Greens as well as A.C.T. are the only minor parties currently in Parliament.
Outside of Parliament two notable attempts at creating brand new parties centred around well known figure or a businessman with a high profile have occurred. One is Conservative Party of New Zealand, which was led by Colin Craig and has contested the 2011, 2014 elections before Mr Craig brought himself into disrepute with alleged advances on his female secretary. The other is The Opportunities Party, which is run by Gareth Morgan, a prominent businessman who is perhaps better known for his crusade against domestic cats because of their predation of bird life. T.O.P. might have done better in the 2017 election had Mr Morgan resisted calling now Prime Minister Jacinda a “pig with lipstick on”.
Neither of these two external parties have made the 5% of the party vote threshhold or won an electorate seat to claim a space in Parliament.
And then there is New Zealand First. Originally the party that made National and Labour look nervously over their shoulders, the party that had the best policy platform of any in Parliament along with a charismatic leader in Winston Peters, New Zealand First are still in Parliament supporting Labour in this particular instance. However the brave policy making, the determination to stand on principle and the slow natural, but relentless aging of Mr Peters who probably has no more than one more term left in him if even that, is gone.
However, the state of the political parties these days is not entirely their fault. All have spent much time and effort trying to mobilise the youth vote where the 150,000 people between ages 18-24 stayed home in 2017 would have done much to swing results had they made the effort. And if one looks at the reasons, perhaps a lack of civics being taught in schools compulsorily, a loss of confidence in politicians or the system.
Of National and Labour though, even after 22 years, there is no doubt that these are still very much the right and left of New Zealand politics respectively. Never mind that there is a centrist party in New Zealand First, a Green Party and an advocate party for consumers and taxpayers. Even after all of this time – and some spectacular political fails along the way – none of them can do anything without the co-operation of National or Labour. Just like in 1990 when Ms Ardern and A.C.T. leader David Seymour were still at Primary School, Mr Bridges in High School, when Mr Peters was a National Party Member of Parliament.
Whilst the number of parties in Parliament has fluctuated considerably in that time, the thinking and the acting in an M.M.P. environment and rapidly changing world is still that of an F.P.P. Parliament.