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Manipulations & Machinations…

OPINION: MMP was supposed to give power to the people, and it has delivered parliaments that are truly representative of New Zealand society. 

But even its most ardent fans must despair at the way politicians manipulate the system through backroom deals over electorate seats, such as those between National and UnitedFuture leader Peter Dunne in Ohariu, and National and ACT in Epsom. Though such agreements may be within the rules of MMP, the cynicism that lies behind them is certainly not within the spirit. 

In Ohariu, National is encouraging its supporters to give their electorate votes to Mr Dunne, and it is poised to send a similar message in Epsom, where ACT’s survival depends on John Banks winning. 

National is motivated by a desire to ensure partners to balance the influence of the Maori Party, its only other coalition option should it be unable to govern alone. In the case of ACT, it is also eyeing the potential for Mr Banks to bring in up to two more MPs, based on the party’s 2 per cent support in today’s Fairfax Research International poll. National will be reluctant to see that centre-Right support wasted if ACT loses Epsom and falls short of the 5 per cent threshold for list-only seats. 

Deal-making over electorates is nothing new under MMP, but it has gone from being an occasional accommodation in one or two seats to a regular feature. Suggestions that ACT stand aside in several marginal seats to maximise National’s electorate vote and stop Labour winning them back take the manoeuvring to a whole new level, and few parties are immune. 

Despite Labour leader Phil Goff’s criticism of the National deals in Ohariu and Epsom, his party has been happy to give allies an easy ride when it suits. His insistence that Labour has always gone all-out to wrest Wigram from Progressives leader Jim Anderton is contradicted by the campaigns it has run there. It spent just $5425.19 in the electorate at the last election, hardly a war chest primed for victory. 

Nor are the Greens above the deal-making. Ohariu candidate Gareth Hughes offered to campaign for the party vote only and encourage his supporters to give their electorate vote to Labour’s Charles Chauvel to oust Mr Dunne. That offer has allowed Mr Dunne to defend his deal with National on the ground that he is only engaging in the same tactics as his opponents  though those with longer memories will recall this is not the first time National has given him an easy ride. 

Of course, it is up to voters to decide who they back, but they must consider that they might not get what they bargained for. National supporters who took the hint and voted for Mr Dunne in Ohariu in 2005 may have been unhappy to find him taking a ministerial warrant in a Labour government a few weeks later.

With MMP’s future on the line in a referendum in this year’s election, how the people feel about such machinations will be put to the test. It would be deeply ironic if a system that was supposed to end the cynicism of politicians met its own end because of it.

Attempts to manipulate MMP can only succeed if we, the People, play the politicians’ games.

At least these machinations are out in the open, for all to see, judge, and vote accordingly.  Under FPP, everything was hidden behind closed doors and no one had a clue what the main parties were getting up to.

It may be distasteful, but I prefer the open transparency of MMP rather than the closed-shop of FPP (or it’s bastardised cousin, Supplementary Member).

I also totally dismiss the editorial comment; “Nor are the Greens above the deal-making. Ohariu candidate Gareth Hughes offered to campaign for the party vote only and encourage his supporters to give their electorate vote to Labour’s Charles Chauvel to oust Mr Dunne…”

The Greens have always been a Party List vote only. Not since Ms Fitzsimmons lost Coromandel in 2002 have they gone for the Electorate vote, anywhere in NZ. So claims that the Greens are “dealing” is not accurate: they have always gone for the Party Vote only.

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  1. James
    8 March 2013 at 9:16 am

    In the last election I gave the Greens my party vote but voted for National in my electorate, Epsom, in an attempt to get rid of Act. These “deals” and manipulations are required because of the stupid electorate voting. I’ve never really understood the need for them.

    • 8 March 2013 at 9:20 am

      Excellent strategising, James.

      Had Green voters done the same in Ohariu (Electorate vote Labour; Party vote Green), Peter Dunne would have lost his seat….

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