Political scientist Kate McMillan from Victoria University says much is at stake in the 2011 electoral referendum.
In 2011 New Zealanders will have the opportunity to say whether they want to keep MMP or change to another system. Dr McMillan says a decision to change would have far-reaching effects on the politics of New Zealand.
"When New Zealand changed from First Past The Post (FPP) to the Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) system in 1996, it had major effects on the number of parties in parliament, the types of parties, the likelihood of minority and coalition governments, and the representation of Maori, women and ethnic minorities.
"These changes, in turn, have had an effect not only on the kinds of governments and policies we have had since 1996, but also on levels of political engagement and perceptions of governmental legitimacy."
She says because of the far-reaching effects of electoral system changes, it is crucial that New Zealanders are well informed about the potential consequences of their vote in the 2011 referendum.
In a seminar next Wednesday Dr McMillan, of Victoria's Political Science and International Relations programme, will examine the four options offered as alternatives to MMP, assessing their ability to meet a number of democratic criteria. She will also examine what New Zealanders can learn from other countries.
Dr McMillan says while some New Zealanders are still confused about MMP most are even less familiar with at least three of the alternatives: the Preferential Voting system (PV), the Supplementary Member system (SM) and the Single Transferable Vote (STV).
She says when New Zealanders voted for MMP in 1993 they did so for a number of reasons, including making parliament more representative, and slowing down the progress of legislation following rapid reform by successive New Zealand governments.
"Seats are now allocated proportionally via the party vote, and we have seen a number of minority parties enter Parliament. The representation of Maori, women, and ethnic minorities has greatly improved, and the number of wasted votes has been dramatically reduced. Single party majorities have proved difficult to obtain."
However, MMP has led to a number of new complaints including its tendency to deliver minority or coalition governments, meaning people cannot be sure of the shape or policies of the government they vote for, as these may change during the post-election coalition formation process.
"If a majority of voters choose to keep MMP in 2011, a review of MMP will be held by the Electoral Commission. The Commission will be asked to consider ways in which the current system can be tweaked in order to respond to public concern about aspects of its operation," says Dr McMillan.
Kate McMillan is a Senior Lecturer in Comparative Politics. She has written extensively on New Zealand politics and election campaigns.
For more information contact Kate McMillan on (04) 463 9595 or at firstname.lastname@example.org
What: New Generation Politics in New Zealand Seminar Series—The Electoral Referendum 2011: the options and their likely electoral consequences. Presented by Kate McMillan
When: 4.10-5.30pm, Wednesday 2 June
Where: Stout Research Centre, 12 Waiteata Road, Kelburn Campus, Victoria University.
The seminar is open to the public. For further information please contact the Stout Research Centre for New Zealand Studies on (04) 463 5305 or email email@example.com