Tag Archives: minor parties and the threshold

MMP at work: the New Zealand 2014 election

Mixed-member proportional (MMP) is a form of electoral system described in Chapter 8 of the textbook (see  p. 276).

New Zealand is one of the countries that has adopted MMP for its House of Representatives.  The New Zealand Electoral Commission describes its voting system as:  ‘a proportional system, which means that the proportion of votes a party gets will largely reflect the number of seats it has in parliament.  Each voter has two votes.  The first vote is for the political party the voter chooses.  This is called the party vote and largely decides the total number of seats each political party gets in Parliament.  The second vote is to choose the MP the voter wants to represent the electorate they live in.  This is called the electorate vote.  The candidate who gets the most votes wins.  They do not have get more than half the votes (author’s note: unlike the Australian preferential system where the candidate must secure at least 50% plus 1 to get elected).  Under current MMP rules, a political party that wins at least one electorate seat OR 5% of the party vote gets a share of the seats in Parliament that is about the same as its share of the party vote.  For example, if a party gets 30% of the party vote it will get roughly 36 MPs in Parliament (being 30% of 120 seats).  So if that party wins 20 electorate seats it will have 16 list MPs in addition to its 20 Electorate MPs. Coalitions or agreements between political parties are usually needed before Governments can be formed,’ (MMP Voting System, http://www.elections.org.nz/voting-system/mmp-voting system).

A very good explanation of New Zealand’s MMP system, including a sample ballot paper,  is provided by Antony Green (‘How MMP Works’, http://blogs.abc.net.au/antonygreen/2014/09/how-mmp-works.html#more).

New Zealand election 2014

The New Zealand election held on 20 September 2014 illustrates the impact of MMP on the make-up of the New Zealand Parliament.

 New Zealand Electoral Commission, Offical Count Results – Overall Status 

published 10 October 2014.


Results Counted: 7,554 of 7,554 (100.0%)
Total Votes Counted: 2,416,479
Party Party
National Party 1,131,501 47.04 41 19 60
Labour Party 604,535 25.13 27 5 32
Green Party 257,359 10.70 0 14 14
New Zealand First Party 208,300 8.66 0 11 11
Māori Party 31,849 1.32 1 1 2
ACT New Zealand 16,689 0.69 1 0 1
United Future 5,286 0.22 1 0 1
Conservative 95,598 3.97 0 0 0
Internet MANA 34,094 1.42 0 0 0
Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party 10,961 0.46 0 0 0
Ban1080 5,113 0.21 0 0 0
Democrats for Social Credit 1,730 0.07 0 0 0
The Civilian Party 1,096 0.05 0 0 0
NZ Independent Coalition 872 0.04 0 0 0
Focus New Zealand 639 0.03 0 0 0
71 50 121


Note:  The formal declaration of results is published as a notice in the NZ Gazette. 

The first- past- the-post system used for the electorate votes delivered one seat to minor party ACT New Zealand in the Epsom electorate where David Seymour won with 43.08 per cent of the vote.  Similarly, Te Ururoa James Flavell of the Maori Party won the Maori seat of Waiariki with 44.6 per cent of the vote and Peter Dunne of United Future Party won the seat of Ohariu with 36.57 per cent of the vote.  Under the preferential system used for Australia’s House of Representatives because no candidate received a majority of 50% plus 1 after the first count, preferences would have been distributed until this majority was reached by a candidate.

The Green Party did not win any electorate seats but the list system delivered them 14 seats in the parliament. New Zealand First Party who also did not win an electorate seat secured 11 seats under the list system (see http://www.elections.org.nz/sites/default/files/bulk-upload/documents/10_10_2014_general_election_list_of_successful_candidates.pdf).

The result of the 2014 election means the National Party with 60 seats does not have a majority in its own right and requires the support of one other party or MP to pass its legislation.  On 8 October it was reported that the National Party was finalising agreements with ACT New Zealand, United  Future and Maori Party who hold a total of four seats which will provide the National government with the majority it needs to secure the passage of its legislation. (Raue, B. ‘NZ 2014-final results’, The Tally Room,  8 October 2014, http://www.tallyroom.com.au/tag/new-zealand-2014).

The difficulty of one party gaining a majority under New Zealand’s MMP voting system and relying on support for minor parties to form a government continues the experience of previous recent election results.  In 2008, the Nationals who won 58 seats entered into a National-led coalition government with ACT New Zealand and United Future and ‘a limited support agreement with the Maori Party’ .  In 2011 the National Party won 60 seats, 1 short of a majority in its own right, and entered into agreements with ACT New Zealand, United Future and the Maori Party which provided them with the support of 4 extra votes in the parliament and the majority needed to govern (New Zealand: Government, http://globaledge.msu.edu/countries/new-zealand/government).

The issue of a ‘threshold’ for Australian Senate elections

The New Zealand MMP system imposes a threshold which designates at least  5 per cent of the national share of the party vote as a requirement for eligibility for a share of the seats in the Parliament under the list system provisions.  As you can see from the above table, only two parties obtained over 5 per cent of the national party vote which made them eligible for the allocation of list seats.  The Green Party obtained 10.70 per cent  which yielded 14 list seats in the parliament. New Zealand First Party which obtained 8.66 per cent  secured 11 list seats in the parliament.

At the  Australian 2013 Senate election minor parties who had secured a  low number of first preference votes secured Senate seats as a result of preference sharing arrangements they had made.  The Abbott coalition government which does not have a majority in the Senate needs the support of at least 6 cross bench members to pass its legislation through the parliament.  When Labor and the Greens oppose the government, the balance of power is held by those minor parties.

The 2013 Senate election result led to suggestions, particularly from the major parties, that a threshold be imposed below which  the votes of party or independent candidates would not be counted.  If the New Zealand threshold of 5 per cent is applied to the 2013 Senate first preference national results only the votes of the following parties would have been counted:  the ALP 30.11 per cent; Liberal Party 7.51 per cent; Liberal/Nationals 21.28 per cent; Liberal National Party 8.08 per cent and The Greens 8.65 per cent and the Palmer United Party which achieved 9.89 per cent of first preference votes in Queensland, 6.58 per cent in Tasmania  and 12.34 per cent in the West Australian re-run would have been counted.  The first preference votes of the other 49 parties would not have been counted, including these senators elected in 2013:  Nick Xenophon group 1.93 per cent; Family First 1.11 per cent; Liberal Democrats 3.91 per cent; and Australian Motoring enthusiast Party 0.50 per cent.   (http://results.aec.gov.au/17496/website/SenateStateFirstPrefsByGroup-17498-NAT.htm).

The Australian Parliament Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters in its ‘interim report on the inquiry into the conduct of the 2013 Federal Election: Senate Voting Practices’ issued in May 2014 concluded:  ‘The proposal to require thresholds as a first measure for fixing the current problems with the Senate voting system is not supported.  In a proportional multi-member electorate, it is easily foreseeable that a candidate preferred by a majority of electors may not reach a full threshold by the smallest of margins’.  The interim report, however, did canvass changes to party registration rules and preference allocation above and below the line which if introduced would be likely to reduce the number of parties presenting candidates at a Senate election, see



Dr Gwynneth Singleton

17 October 2014.