'Undemocratic' MMP threshold 'should be abolished' - political analyst Dr Bryce Edwards

A political analyst has called the current MMP threshold for parties to enter Parliament "undemocratic", and said he supports the Greens' Bill to lower it. 

Dr Bryce Edwards, political analyst and researcher at Victoria University of Wellington and Director of Critical Politics, said he doesn't think there should be a threshold at all. 

"I think the 5 percent threshold is totally undemocratic. I'm totally in favour of lowering it - in fact I think it should just be abolished," he said on Wednesday. 

"I don't think it's very defendable to have a threshold at all."

The Electoral Strengthening Democracy Bill, submitted by Green MP Golriz Ghahraman on Sunday, proposes lowering the MMP threshold from 5 percent to 4 percent - a change recommended by an Electoral Commission review in 2012. 

Ms Ghahraman has copped a lot of criticism about the Bill this week - even from Winston Peters, whose New Zealand First party is a member of the same Government coalition as the Greens. 

Mr Peters said on Tuesday: "We think if you can't get 5 percent you shouldn't be in Parliament."

National leader Simon Bridges suggested the Greens submitted the Bill in the hopes that it might help them get into Parliament again, after recent polling showed them on 5.1 percent - perilously close to dipping below the threshold. 

Dr Edwards defended the Bill, telling Magic Talk that if New Zealand is going to have mixed-member proportional (MMP) representation, then it should "apply to all political parties". 

He said the threshold tells us that all political parties should have proportional representation, "unless you're a small party, and therefore you don't qualify, and therefore you don't deserve to be in Parliament". 

The problem with that, he explained, is it discounts all the people who want smaller political parties in Parliament. Many people want to vote for conservative parties and left-leaning parties, and the threshold rule often leaves us with fewer options. 

"It means that we're not really getting a full variety of voices in Parliament and diversity of ideologies, and I think that's a real shame," Dr Edwards said.

"The argument for having a threshold is you've got to have some stability, you've got to stop the proliferation of having too many minor parties," he added. "Personally, I think that argument's overblown."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern promised on Tuesday that any drop to the 5 percent threshold would not happen before the 2020 election. And Ms Ghahraman welcomed that, telling Newshub she hoped the Bill would be debated in Parliament. 

Mr Peters said any changes to the MMP threshold would need to be put to a vote. But Justice Minister Andrew Little suggested the changes could be implemented through legislation in Parliament. 

Dr Edwards said either method is "absolutely fine". But he said due to New Zealand's political culture, the Government would need to "get quite widespread consensus from the parties" before any changes were made. 

"I think it would be wrong to just push it through Parliament with a bare majority of Labour, the Greens and New Zealand First," he said. 

Dr Bryce Edwards.
Dr Bryce Edwards. Photo credit: File

"If National's opposed to it, I think constitutionally it's not how we do things in New Zealand, and it would bring into doubt the legitimacy of the change if it went ahead like that."

The political analyst also acknowledged that if the matter was put to a vote during the next 2020 election, it would be up alongside a vote on legalising euthanasia and recreational cannabis, making it a "busy time at the ballot box". 

But having all of those issues to address could encourage more people to vote, Dr Edwards added, with Statistics New Zealand data showing that voter turnout has been falling since the 1980s. 

"It could well turn that tide and get people a bit more engaged at the next election and I think that's probably a good thing. It is apt to have public voting on things like euthanasia and drug reform and the MMP threshold," he said.

"It might end up that we don't have a proper debate on any one of those issues because there's just too many topics, but that's democracy, and I do still think it's possible that we can rise to the occasion.

"I think it is better than the Government just deciding on all these issues. I think it is good that they're taking it to the people."


Contact Newshub with your story tips: