How Does NZ’s Democracy Fit With NZ Society?

August 31, 2009

This is the third post on this topic where I first asked: Is NZ’s MMP system Mature? I decided this wasn’t a very fruitful line of enquiry and asked the more interesting question: What type of Democracy is NZ?

This was a little more informative – it seems that through the introduction of the MMP proportional voting system NZ’s democracy has been split between a Majoritarian system and a Consensual system, with some parts belonging to one category and some to another. In my mind this could be a large part of a disconnect within NZ’s political system  and perhaps part of the reason behind continuing discontent with MMP.

But I think rather than simply looking at the political system, it could also be interesting to look at broader NZ society and how it interfaces with it. In other words, does NZ’s political system fit its society?

A lot of things which I originally intended to mention here were actually picked up by Lijphart and are therefore in the previous post: Interest group mediation (Majoritarian); Lack of a written constitution/constitutional court (Majoritarian); Independent Central Bank (Consensual). Although I am not a sociologist (and would value a contribution from one here very much) I will take a rough stab at some other aspects of NZ society which I can think of and might tell us something about how it fits with the political system.

1. Political Socialization: With this I quite simply mean the way large groups of people in NZ grew up thinking about politics. For a lot of people still, this was under a Majoritarian, two-party, first-past-the-post situation which undoubtedly still shapes their thinking about politics.

2.Minority & Ethnic Groups: I would make the cautious assertion that here NZ society tends towards the Consensual. Basically, the more homogenous the society the better suited it is to a Majoritarian system. Interests do not diverge substantially from group to group and today’s minority can easily become tomorrow’s majority, leading to balanced public policy. I would cautiously say that NZ has, firstly, always had minority groups (eg Maori) represented in Parliament and well-organised out of Parliament. Secondly, I would add that NZ society has, especially through immigration, become more ethnically diverse over time. Both these points speak for NZ society fitting a Consensual democratic system better than a Majoritarian one.

For lack of other aspects which occur to me I will end the analysis here and confess that I do not see a clear pattern emerging. A lot of institutions in NZ are fitting with a Majoritarian democratic system. However, some are closer to a Consensual system.

As for society, my analysis above is too short and not detailed enough. However, with time the generations who grew up under the purely Majoritarian system will pass away. And with further immigration NZ society will become less homogenous and therefore less suited to a Majoritarian political system.

It seems that at the moment NZ society may be split, like its political system, between a more Majoritarian and a more Consensual system. As time goes on it may move to being better suited to the Consensual model.


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