Perhaps it is the language barrier, but I have never seen much analysis of the relationship between the German and New Zealand electoral systems, or of its consequences. But as I learned back in POLS101, the new electoral system which New Zealand adopted in 1996 (MMP) was the same system used to elect the lower house of the German Parliament, the Bundestag (and most German state parliaments). With elections to the Bundestag coming up later this year it is a good time to look at both countries from a comparative perspective.

This system is characterised by one main purpose: creating consensus across political parties and reducing the chance of one party gaining an absolute majority. The main mechanism to this end is the proportional allocation of seats in the house according to total votes cast, allowing a wider variety of political parties to be represented and a large chance of coalitions having to be formed.

It is worth noting that this system was developed after WWII and sought to prevent the sort of situation which allowed Hitler’s NSDAP (Nazi party) to gain control of the Reichstag, outlaw opposition parties and create a one-party dictatorship, with disastrous consequences. (Not all of this was done lawfully or facilitated by the constitution; however it was not prevented by it either.)

How interesting that New Zealanders would be so disillusioned with their electoral system that they would adopt another that was developed as a direct consequence of one of history’s most appalling and disastrous perversions of democracy.

New Zealand’s reasons for adopting a proportional representation system were of a much, much lower order of injustice and can be summarised as frustration at:

1. Distortion of election results: The old First-Past-The-Post (FPP) system on occasion – but, perhaps fatefully, twice in a row in 1978 and 1981 – rewarded more seats in the House to the Party which had won less votes.

2. Underrepresentation of Minorities: FPP consistently returned only the two largest parties, Labour and National, to the House.

3. The ‘Absolute Power’ of Cabinet: With a party majority in the House and control of Cabinet a small group of people could in effect control all legislation passed by Parliament. This was perceived to be the situation especially between 1984 and 1993 when wide-ranging reforms were made by Government which sections of the public felt were not mandated.