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On Saturday, the results of a November 26th, 2011 referendum were released. In conjunction with the general election (where National Party leader John Key was re-elected to a minority parliament), New Zealanders voted on whether the existing electoral system, Mixed-Member Proportional (MMP), should be replaced with an alternative.

57% of voters chose to keep MMP, while on 43% were in favour of considering an alternative. Despite the recent arguments against MMP, the electoral system had more support in this referendum than it did in 1993 when it was first adopted. Like with the general election, 2.2 million votes were cast for the referendum; you can find the full results here.

New Zealand abandoned First-Past-the-Post (FPTP) due to the perceived benefits of MMP. In an MMP system, every vote is counted equally and seats are awarded by the total percentage of the vote; the parliament that results is a more representative reflection of the general population, not just those who happen to win seats. In New Zealand, the system has allowed more women, aboriginals, and other minorities to win seats than in the past.

Regardless, there was a large movement for change in New Zealand. Under MMP, the parties hold most of the power, not the individual Members of Parliament; it is harder to hold a politician personally accountable like you can under other electoral systems. A politician who loses in their own riding can still reach parliament if selected by their party. Smaller parties hold more power under MMP, and the time required to form coalitions to take action on important issues is seen by some as being too lengthy to implement effective policy.

Of the four rejected alternatives, FPTP received the best result with almost 47% of the vote. The other alternatives, Preferential Voting (PV), Single Transferable Vote (STV), and the Supplementary System (SM) did not receive significant public support. British Columbia has voted twice on a STV system, in 2005 and 2009, but neither proposal was implemented.

Ontario voted for electoral reform in 2007, but rejected a switch to MMP. Many other Canadians have suggested that electoral reform would help curb civic disengagement. Voter turnout in New Zealand was considered low at 73% (remarkably, it was their lowest turnout since 1887), a figure that would be seen as remarkable in Canada today. Does New Zealand’s continued support of the system make it an appealing alternative in Canada?

For more about the referendum and how it could impact Canadian politics, read our previous blog on the subject – Will there be Electoral Reform in New Zealand?

Dan

 

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Non-partisan organization engaging young Canadians in the democratic process.
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