Media attack on New Zealand’s democracy

MMP in New Zealand

Twenty five years ago New Zealand voted in a first referendum for the (more) democratic proportional voting system called MMP (Mixed Member Proportional) as recommended  by the Royal Commission after the most thorough investigation into all electoral systems around the world.
The people overwhelmingly (over 84%) rejected the undemocratic First-Past-the-Post (FPP) electoral system, which for instance previously in 1978 and 1981 had returned the National Party to government even if it got fewer votes than the opposition Labour Party. From the four alternative options MMP got overwhelming support with 75%.
In the run-up referendum in 1993 after a bruising campaign by supporters of the National Party who wanted to hang on to the undemocratic system, which favoured their party the people confirmed MMP by 54% to 46%.


However the anti-democratic forces did not accept the results of two referenda. They immediately went to work creating a myth that there was a promise that the issue would be revisited after testing it in a few elections. There was in fact never such a promise nor expectation. Still under another National government in 2011 another MMP referendum was held. The result of almost 58% for retaining MMP was even stronger than 18 years earlier.

The media are extremely slow learners. Over all these years they still  seem to be living in the old imperial First Past the Post world. For example they still talk about electorate and list MPs as if there was a difference. In the other MMP country Germany nobody makes that distinctions and never has. In our current debate we still hear the myth that electorate MPs are supposed to be first class while list MPs second class. The former being accountable and being able to be voted out by the people while the later (only) being accountable to their parties, which put them on the list. This myth could not be further from the truth. As one scientist quipped in the US context that MPs in safe seats are less accountable to the public than the members of the Stalinist polit-bureau. The later having changed much more often under public pressure that safe seats under First-Past-the-Post. As I already said in a 1992 debate in safe National seats like Te Kuiti or Southland Clutha the party can put a blue ribbon around a sheep dog and it will be elected.

Not even a conspiracy

Still every election where the results are not to the liking of the neo-liberal media inevitably the electoral system is blamed. An objective observer is driven to despair and might be tempted – shock horror – to agree with Donald Trump’s attacks on the ‘fake media’.

trump1_101117gettyPresident Trump on Thursday again slammed the “fake news” media,
saying it has “such hatred.”

The New Zealand media in general do not even try to conceal their disdain for our electoral system and democracy. After this year’s election, which as usual under proportional representation didn’t produce a clear winner with over 50% of the vote they almost demanded that the party with the most votes – as it two weeks later turned out to be 44% – be given the right to form the next government. The fact that 56% had voted against the old government wasn’t ever worth a mention.
All sorts of arguments were invented by the media like “moral authority” to cling on to the old First-Past-the-Post thinking (see my article in the NZ Herald: Hans Grueber: Nothing says the largest party has moral right to govern).

 ‘Holding the country to ransom’

Some evil man named Winston after a famous British Prime Minister with the help the terrible MMP system has taken New Zealand hostage or so it sounds. Most of the world, which is governed by some form of proportional representation look at us – that is our media – as if we had lost our minds.

We didn’t have a new government on election night, Oh My God !

The media wouldn’t even allow for the final results to come out before crying out about New Zealand being taken hostage by a party with only just over 7% of the vote. They are just taking their time to negotiate and make up their minds. These media, editors, commentators, and pundits assumed that the New Zealand people of voting age are still like little children who cannot wait and want to open the presents under the tree before Christmas day. The only ones who can’t wait are the media themselves. This is the age of instant gratification after all.
A little overview of the comments appeared in the Guardian under the headline ‘New Zealand election result ‘held hostage’ by anonymous board of minor party‘.
This so called “anonymous board” of the New Zealand First party, which will be consulted in the decision making process, is of course not unique but has an equivalent in any other democratic parliamentary party in New Zealand. They would or will be equally involved in the democratic decision making process. So why the media outrage ?

No government, how will we survive ?

Another media beat-up in the crazy assumption that it will scare the people is the fact that for an interim period after every election the old government continues as caretaker government in charge of running the day to day business of government. However they are not allowed to introduce any policy changes of make major decisions. This is portrayed as a terrible thing as if the country would not happily function for a few weeks or even months without a proper government.
The last time I looked the trains kept running more or less on time, the airplanes are arriving and leaving if they have enough jet fuel, the police are still arresting people and solving crimes, the courts are holding hearings and handing down sentences and we all still receive our super annuation or benefit payments. And as far as I could discern nobody claimed after the terrible fatalities of the last few days that people started killing each other on the roads because there was ‘no government’.

The other MMP country Germany held elections on the same weekend. The far right neo-liberal party (FDP) represents the interests of the the business community, which according to the media here cannot live without the certainty of a new government. One of their representatives just appeared on the most influential political TV talkshow. When asked about a coalition before Christmas he replied that such serious negotiations could not be rushed. The host’s only reply was that they just would have to wait.
Belgium a few years back was without a new government for about 18 months after their election. The people loved it as no harm and damage was done to them unlike to us by successive neo-liberal governments over the last 33 years.

The media still stuck in the First-Past-the-Post world ignore the fact that all this is totally normal under any proportional system in the world. They are seriously suggesting that we, the people, didn’t know what we were doing when we voted over the last 25 years not once but three times for MMP – a far superior system than we had before.

Concerted Attack

Following the mainstream media including the state owned broadcasters you cannot but conclude that we are witnessing a concerted attack on our electoral system. Not only do we read and hear comments of the above nature by editors, political reporters and media personnel. The media also give overwhelming space to totally outrageous and false comments in the letter pages and give a platform to anti MMP campaigners of ‘Dirty Politics‘ fame to spread their old disinformation and lies.

It seems we have been watching the Media attack on New Zealand’s democracy.

 by Dr. Hans B. Grueber
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