New Zealanders talk about the weather a lot. But nowadays there’s less of small talk because this is election year. Oh, we do follow our antipodean fellows from down under, because like someone said, “When America sneezes, everyone catches a cold.” But we would not give up speaking about our wonderful weather, especially when summer is just coming on, to discuss American politics. We ourselves are in the middle of election time. In fact we are in the last month leading up to the elections.
Helen Clark, heading the Labour party has been at the helm of government for three terms, which makes a total of nine years. In this period, legalising prostitution, many attempts at social engineering, and a soft approach to crime, stand out. More recently, the anti-smacking bill and the Electoral Finance bill (that is seen by many as an affront to free speech and the right to campaign) were passed. The traditional family has been under fire, and political correctness has reached ridiculous levels. Violent crime is on the increase, and the country’s welfare programs continue to bleed tax payers and feed many undeserving people.
The other major party in New Zealand is National whose leader is John Key. If the Labour party must lose, then National has to win the elections. But this does not necessarily mean that we must vote National, because National will need to form a coalition with other parties, and those who want National to form the government, may consider other minor parties that National is likely to consider as a coalition partner.
I owe much of my awareness of politics to Glenda Aikin from church who was associated with the ACT party, a minor party, for many years. With her help I was able to arrange for a political meeting in our house with ACT candidate Chris Simmons. He kindly gave our friends and us a civics lesson and went on to explain to us what the ACT party stood for. On Sunday, after church, I noticed that there were others who felt that voting for minor parties was a risk, should there be a close race between Labour and National. I am learning every day.
God’s people must vote carefully. It is our duty to do so. Sadly, I have noticed that some Christians are not very concerned about these matters. Their excuse is that we do not have a viable alternative. For immigrants, unfamiliarity with the system is a hurdle. Indian immigrants are more politically aware than their Chinese counterparts, because we come from a country that is a strong democracy. But even among Indians, many of us have not taken the effort to understand the political system of New Zealand.
My friend Laurie (Beauty for Ashes) , whose links are the best, has linked to an interesting article written by Sherry Early. Sherry writes with the US elections in mind, but what she says applies to Christian voters everywhere. Here is an extract:
So, why am I saying that voting is a trust and a duty anyway? We live in an imperfect world. There are no perfect or perfectly righteous or completely wise candidates for any office, ever, as much as we may wish there were. So we choose the better of two (or more) imperfect candidates. We choose knowing that we may be mistaken, knowing that our candidate, if elected, will do things that we disagree with and will imperfectly implement even the policies with which we agree, if he can implement them at all. We vote on the basis of both issues and the character of the candidates themselves, knowing that our knowledge of both issues and character is also imperfect and incomplete. But to remain silent and nonvoting is also a choice. It’s a choice which says that I refuse to act in this world until I can be sure that my actions will not be misinterpreted, my plans will not go awry, and everyone else in the world will act in perfect integrity just as I do always. We don’t live in that world and won’t for some time to come.
[I encourage all my Christian readers to read Sherry’s entire article, To Vote or Not to Vote]
If you are on the electoral roll in New Zealand, and do not know (like I did not know a couple of weeks ago) the meanings of terms like MMP, Party vote, Electoral vote, and Coalition government, do read on. These are my brief notes about the New Zealand political system. If I have missed out some thing or have misunderstood something, I will be very grateful if you could leave a comment.
1n 1993, New Zealand moved from FFP (First Past the Post) system to MMP (Mixed Member Proportional) system.
FFP (First Past the Post) system
According to the FFP system, the country is divided into electorates and parties put forward candidates in the electorates. The candidates who win in the electorates make it to House. The party with majority seats forms the government.
But under the FFP system, if several candidates of Party X lost by a few votes in each of their electorates, then you would find that the number of seats of Party X in the House did not represent the number of people in the country favouring them. So the MMP system was introduced in 1993.
MMP (Mixed Member Proportional) system
According to this system, each voter is given 2 votes, the party vote and the electoral vote. A voter needs to give his electoral vote for the candidate in his electorate who he thinks will best look the affairs of the electorate. He needs to give his party vote to the party he wants to see represented in the House. Parties are represented in the House in proportion to the party vote, provided it is at least 5% or if they have won at least one electoral seat.
Let’s say Party Y gets 5% of the party votes, then Party Y will have 5% of the seats in the house. Let’s say this translates to 6 seats.
Suppose 2 candidates of Party Y won their electoral seat, they get into the House. They can take with them 4 more. They cannot take anyone they like. They take individuals in the order of the party List. This party list is put forward by all parties many months ahead of elections.
Going back to our example, the 4 members are taken from the list, starting at the top and skipping names of the 2 candidates already voted in, if they figure at the beginning of the list.
Formation of Government
A Majority government, where a party gets more than 50% of the party votes is very unlikely under MMP system.
The party with the maximum number of votes is given a chance to have a coalition with one or more parties and form the government if they can come up with the majority numbers.
If two or more parties can come together as a coalition and get the majority required to form a government, the cabinet comprises members from all the parties in the coalition. (Coalition government)
If a party with minority votes gets other parties to support it from outside the cabinet, then it is called a Minority government. This is unstable because the government can lose the confidence of the House.
How electorates are divided: The south island is always divided into 16 electorates of similar population size. The number of electorates in the North Island is decided accordingly.
Number of seats in the House: In 1993, the number of seats in the House also increased from 99 to 120 but can increase or decrease if necessary. It is possible for a party to win more electoral seats than it is entitled to under party vote, in which case we will have an overhang ( a few extra seats in the House). On the other hand, if a party is entitled to more seats than it has candidates, then the number of seats in the House is decreased.
Special votes include the following:
- Votes of those who are overseas on election day. (You can cast your vote from overseas if you are on the electoral rolls.)
- Votes of those who vote in advance. (You can cast your vote before election day from public libraries, post offices etc. that have facilities set up for advance voting)
- Votes from those voting outside their electorate. (On election day, if you cannot make it to voting venues in your electorate, you can vote from any other venue).
These special votes are counted after election day, and adjustments are made in the house when the results come out.