I happen to be in New Zealand just now, and the Kiwis went to the polls last Saturday (September 23). The right-of-centre National Party won a near-majority of seats and only needs to secure two more votes from the minor parties to form another government. I actually predicted this, but didnâ€™t get around to posting before. You can trust RBC bloggers implicitly, right? Right?
A few points for Americans, Brits and other outsiders.
An electoral system designed by adults
New Zealand has a unicameral parliament, filled by the â€œmixed-member proportionalâ€ system, aka “Additional Member”. This gives electors a dual vote for party and constituency candidate. The 71 constituency MPs are topped up from party lists to give proportionality. Itâ€™s the sort of scheme you get if you ask dispassionate Vulcans to suggest something, which is more or less how the Germans got it, and later the devolved assemblies for Scotland, Wales and London. So you tend to get moderate coalition governments. (The disadvantage is that you give too much leverage to small parties that can often act as kingmakers, instead of freezing them out completely as FPTP does.) All four of the main parties have been in and out of government in the last decade. Even the populist, anti-immigration â€œNew Zealand Firstâ€ party is a very genteel version of the type. Can you see the Front National, UKIP or Trumpâ€™s GOP including in their health policy a proposal to â€œincrease longitudinal data collection in health like a perinatal databaseâ€? Thatâ€™s as wonkish as the stuff HRC was sneered at for.
Helping voters vote
New Zealand is worried about the participation rate in elections: the time before it shockingly fell below 80%. Voting is not compulsory, as in Australia. USA 2016: 55%. Unlike the US, New Zealand is doing something to make voting easier. They have trialled early voting kiosks in shopping malls, covering a range of nearby constituencies. Instant registration? Naturally. Paper ballots? Naturally. There are automatic recounts and reconciliation with the electoral roll, so the definitive results take two weeks. Itâ€™s a good system, but nothing exceptional. Itâ€™s the USA that is the outlier, sticking to a worm-eaten, discriminatory, corrupt, profligate and inefficient electoral system out of Hogarth.
BTW, part of Lu’s Brazilian family have happily settled in New Zealand. They aren’t naturalized but have permanent resident rights. They were allowed to vote. And why not?
Democracy on a budget
Expenses for the seven-week campaign are capped by law. Counting the flat allowances for parties, constituency candidates, and the unequally distributed allocation for broadcasting airtime, the most the National Party at the head of the list can spend is NZ$5,091,260. The total costs of all 12 parties, many of them tiny no-hopers,Â must be in the area of NZ$25m, or US$18m. Thatâ€™s to elect the government for a country of 4.4m people and an area similar to Colorado. The special election in Georgia for a single Congressional seat cost over $30m.
What health policy?
A big yawn. Nobody wants to change a system thatâ€™s working well. The parties put health well down the list of issues: the campaign has been about immigration, housing, transport infrastructure, and taxes. This disinterest is entirely normal. Campaigns in the UK feature the NHS, but itâ€™s all about funding levels not the principle. Once you fix healthcare, on any one of half-a-dozen statist systems, it stays fixed. Here are the health pages on the partiesâ€™ platform websites: National Party, Labour, New Zealand First, Greens. See if you can find anything radical.