Archive for the ‘civil rights’ Category

Or maybe there are?

If you’re on New Zealand Twitter, you’ve probably already been following this story. If not, a bunch of Auckland University students have decided to form a “European Students Association,” which they are currently saying is open to people of all backgrounds to celebrate european culture and cuisine, and they plan to host “historical re-enactments” and “european feasts.” I won’t link them directly for reasons hopefully obvious, but Newshub has some surprisingly nuanced coverage on this.

You may have noted I said “currently saying.” Until recently, their online presence on Facebook was a full-blown example of cryptofascism. It featured subtly altered Nazi quotes, a Celtic logo complete with swords and a quasi-nazi slogan which also fits the cryptofascist profile, and pictures glorifying the idea of German empire. Since they caught media attention, they have scrubbed their facebook presence and now only sport a Celtic logo without swords. One, or maybe two of these things could reasonably be a mistake. (or you know, a genuine interest in Celtic art or German history) Four of these things together implies that someone in this organisation either thinks Nazism isn’t something to be taken seriously, (in which case they’re in trouble with actual fascists as well as with everyone else) or is actually a secret supporter of white nationalism or some other flavour of eliminationism, and perhaps was trying to signal to others that the organisation would be a front for white nationalism.

The Herald identifies one of their spokespeople as Adam Holland, and the group has contested that he is not a member, (as you would expect from a former “mayoral candidate,” being generous to Adam) but have not denied he was an authorised spokesperson for them, and have not required any corrections to be published. Adam is a known troll, which suggests it’s possible that this group started off as some sort of joke. Evasions from their spokespeople on key issues that would upset a genuine club seem to indicate that the group is intending to troll people, either as some sort of joke, or because they think they can stir up some threats against themselves and use that as some sort of propaganda win.

However the group being agitators wouldn’t mean there’s no reason to take it seriously, as even disorganised groups that are out to troll the public can still give serious fascists a chance to meet up and organise, and feel normal, and there are a surprising number of people supporting these idiots. Letting this sort of thing go on and protecting people’s right to preach eliminationism using private resources to build themselves a platform is irresponsible and unjust, and the prevalence of such underground groups organising through secret or just obscure means and fringe websites are precisely what led to Breitbart news, and Steve Bannon, and ultimately the white nationalist support for Donald Trump, and his support in return for white nationalism. You can still support freedom of thought and freedom of ideas while requiring all student groups to have a non-discriminatory purpose, to have no links to hate groups, and not to use known imagery of hate groups. That is a standard exception clause to free speech rights in private institutions, and it’s basically the least you can do to prevent a white nationalist movement taking over.

There is not as mature an organisation of white nationalism in New Zealand, but the attitudes and thoughts that led to it are still here, (colonialism is just another flavour of white supremacy, sadly, and we’re still working on getting to a post-colonial society that values Māori as the indigenous people of New Zealand, and any other recent immigrants as just as valuable as Pakeha. And we have a mature nationalist political party already, so all we need is that nationalism and that white supremacy to mix, and suddenly you have neo nazis in the Pacific) and we need to take the possibility of it being normalised seriously, even when it’s disorganised people who may or may not be trying to have a bit of a joke.

Auckland University has defended itself partly by saying it had recently changed its policy to allow groups to recruit during orientation week before going through their formal process and submitting member lists, which is a reasonable excuse for why this group was allowed to openly recruit during orientation. But that’s the past, what are they saying about the future?

Well, they have stepped into a classic trap of saying they have “no proof” that this group is racist. A confluence of circumstantial evidence is all you ever get when you’re dealing with cryptofascists. Their entire strategy is to play a game of piggy-in-the-middle with accusations against them, where they can maintain plausible deniability if anyone decodes their references to eliminationism or white supremacy, because they try to keep it low-key enough that there is never any substantial proof, which means you have to overreact at least slightly to catch them, and you need to require people to have a good explanation for circumstantial evidence, something that’s counter-intuitive to liberal sensibilities, but is a prerequisite to being an effective liberal in a society with proto-fascist movements. It needs to be very clear that any white supremacy on private property or in public spaces will result in an over-reaction. Nobody will admit to being a Nazi until the Nazis have already reached a critical threshold, a fact that University lecturers surely know, and it’s surprising that the relevant decision-makers haven’t listened to them. In contrast, their Students Association has actually been really good on this issue, and deserves a lot of credit for understanding the nuance correctly.

It is possible, of course, that some people involved in this group really believed the cover story. But at least one person was either joking in a thoroughly inappropriate way about Nazi content, or was serious about it but knew enough to try not to be completely obvious. If the group wants to continue without this stigma, all they need to do is remove the people who made that mistake from the group, and notify the University authorities who they were so that they can be watched to prevent other inappropriate behaviour in the future without risking  any retaliatory action from overenthusiastic anti-fascists.

It’s bad enough that we have an anglo-centric nationalist party in Parliament, but we cannot have that kind of pop patriotism that buoys New Zealand First and similar social conservative movements turning to the dark side on us in New Zealand. Everyone, right, left, centre, or otherwise, needs to be clear that there’s no place for fascists in New Zealand.

As to whether it’s appropriate to celebrate European culture, of course it is, with the caveat that it has to be legitimately about the culture of all of europe, not just the white parts. (Most white nationalists are interested chiefly in British, Germanic, or Russian cultures. If they branch out into Iberian culture, France, and eastern europe as well, that’s a good sign) If that was legitimately their aim, firstly, they picked a stupid name, and secondly, they should have approached lecturers on various european culture courses to advise them, who would have then been able to substantiate their claims that they were legitimate. Tertiary culture courses do a very good job of digging deep into culture, far deeper than most cultural clubs or associations have a chance to get in their public events, so anyone serious about that goal should have been thinking about using their resources better.

It’s also worth noting that “European culture” is a group culture, the same way “African culture” is. It’s really dozens of different cultures. New Zealand has about four prominent European feeder cultures to our own modern hybrid euro-polynesian melting pot culture, so the first thing to know is that most kiwis already live European culture to some degree, as our culture is largely pieced together from English settler traditions and elements of Māori language and tikanga that have been assimilated, but still notably contains elements of Irish and Scottish culture, especially in the South Island, and even some Germanic influences in certain places and institutions. There is amazing art, (performance or otherwise) literature, and film from all of those cultures.

It’s perfectly reasonable to be proud of those things, but that’s very different from glorifying past empires who committed atrocities and whose time is over, and it’s also different from trying to exclude or hate other groups, which is often what “white pride” or “European pride” is a code word for, and a precursor step to calling for forced migration, at which point we’ve then arrived at eliminationism. Even now, some people reacting to the news are mentioning several of these code words, and this is precisely the point of cryptofascism: nobody can tell if their supporters are actual fascists, or just people who are legitimately proud of their European descent, and that confusion is why we have to push back so hard against this sort of behaviour.

Update: So, despite writing this last night and scheduling it for this morning in case sleep elucidated anything, it looks like there’s already a resolution. The Herald reports that the AUESA is going to disband. Good. This reinforces my perception that they were trolls who picked a culture battle they didn’t know they weren’t going to win, because people were ready for them.

They claim to have been threatened with violence: if that’s true, (and I admit to some skepticism that it is, given that fearing for your own safety is a great excuse to back down from failure anonymously, and we still only have rumours about who the people behind this group were) please don’t threaten violence on fascists unnecessarily. These were not powerful fascists who were putting people in imminent risk who arguably justified symbolic resistance or an actual life-or-death struggle like actual Nazis did. These were not influential media figures who need to be stood up to. They were just as likely to have been defeated with criticism, mockery, and general social disapproval, as they were a bunch of disorganised jokers. If every cryptofascist were this easy to stop, we wouldn’t be bothering to debate about the ethics of punching nazis, and it wouldn’t be as serious an issue as it is. Peaceful resistance is an effective tool and it should always be the first resort.

That said, this will no doubt be the point at which some troll says “liberals are as bad as what they claim to be against, they’re racist against Europeans, and they want to take away our freedom to speak about fascism.” Anyone who seriously thinks that needs to crack a book. You can’t be racist against white people, or “Europeans,” because racism requires bigotry and institutional power set against you. Most institutional power is set up to support people like me. And you’ll notice, all anyone was calling for was the university not to register a simple club. Nobody’s actually gagging fascists, but you better believe there will be real consequences to free speech, because free speech only protects you from the government, and most private institutions don’t want any white nationalism getting on them if they can help it, especially not when ordinary people notice it and call it out.

This does reinforce my belief that the old advice to “not feed the trolls” is at best outdated, if it did ever work outside a particularly narrow context of certain types of attention-seekers in small, tight-nit communities back when most internet was dialup. Oh look, we stirred up a lot of media attention… and the trolls couldn’t withstand its withering gaze. It’s almost as if the threat of being held accountable in real life for their behaviour actually discourages them, right?

The people behind this group are continuing to pretend they did not engage in unacceptably cryptofascist behaviour, and/or fail to bring it to account. They’re asking us not to believe our “lying eyes.” They provided no credible explanation for the content they posted, took no responsibility for excluding the responsible party or safely reporting them to the university, issued no apology, and evaded or dodged every criticism they could in engaging with the public or media on the issue, never having a substantive discussion about how four separate pieces of cryptofascist imagery ended up on their page by “misunderstanding,” when there have been claims from people that they know the artist for their logo, who is, surprise surprise, connected to Adam Holland. I have little doubt they are simply playing for sympathy either to make this die down or try and build momentum for another group later. Please have your scorn ready for anything these idiots try in the future.

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How’s that for a title, huh? The new Trump administration in the US is making it very clear that the US is up against a (proto)fascist regime 1, as its very first actions have teed up a conflict between the judicial and executive branches, with Customs and Border Control going rogue in favour of the President, ignoring legitimate court orders based on internal instructions to comply with the President’s agenda, and mass protests assembling at airports in solidarity with immigrants who, in many cases, just want to return to their lives in the the US, or escape persecution.

The only time you get to ignore a court order in a well-constituted democracy is when a higher court contradicts it, so anyone at the US CBP who’s refusing to follow those court orders after being informed of them is actually breaking the law. The ACLU is going through heroic efforts to try and legally represent anyone impacted by this new executive order, however many are being illegally denied access to counsel. This is not the sort of story you expect to hear from a democratic nation, and of course, it’s made even worse by Trump firing his acting Attorney-General, a rare holdover from the Obama administration who took the logical step of advising the justice department not to defend the executive order, as it wasn’t legally defensible and its resources were better spent elsewhere. This of course put her in the nearly unprecedented position of publicly disagreeing with the White House, so her dismissal is understandable if wrong.

In the middle of this mess, we still have some well-intentioned conservatives, moderates, and even left-wing advocates of non-violence objecting to punching a Nazi, a debate which is at best, a distraction. Let’s get it over with so we can move on to things that matter.

Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s not my preferred tactic to punch anyone. But people are forgetting the extreme measures we went to in the Entnazifizierung (eng: denazification, usually of Germany) and that resistance against a regime employing the tactics of fascism might require several different approaches, some of which are distasteful concessions to the weaknesses inherent in a democratic system2. I maintain my stance that non-violent action is effective, ethical, and normally sufficient, and that if illegal action is required in protest it should be with the intention of getting arrested. However, there are reasons for violent action that go beyond appealing to moderates, which is largely what modern democratic protest is about. If I was given a definite choice between punching a Nazi in the face and facing a new fascist regime, you can bet I would be masking up and punching me a Nazi. (naturally, the real world is a little more complicated than that, and I have no immediate intention to go off punching anyone, as I don’t actually know that it’s necessary or sufficient to stop fascism, and fortunately, it looks not to be on the export into New Zealand just yet) The person who did punch Richard Spencer no doubt had legitimate objectives that have arguably been met by doing so: to intimidate neo-fascists, to motivate people opposed to them, to send the message that their policies of deportation aren’t viewed universally as non-violent, to act as a symbol of resistance, and so on. There is an argument that those type of tactics may be necessary against people setting up actual fascist regimes like Trump.

While I wouldn’t do it myself, I can’t condemn someone for punching a Nazi, and I think it’s an astounding display of lack of perspective as to the how much of a threat even muted whisperings of forced relocation (merely a more mild form of eliminationism, an ideology that has never met a genocide it didn’t like) that are going on within the new white nationalist wing of the Republican Party. Add to that influential advisors in the new administration such as Bannon and Sessions having close ties to white nationalism, and I’m frankly shocked that people don’t view punching nazis as an under-reaction, and for those who are still outraged at the idea of violence against Nazis, I hope you’re very regretful about World War 2, and pretty much any movies set between 1920 and 1945.

Let’s rewind back to post-war Germany, which was occupied in four zones by the UK, US, Soviets, and French. Freedom of association in post-war Germany was gone. The Nazi party was disassembled, and people were questioned about their support of the party, and put on trial based on its membership list once it was recovered. Imagine for a moment that the Republican Party were banned in the USA and understand what a cultural shock that would be and an enormous task it was. Merely being a member of the party prior to Hitler’s rise to power automatically made you a a suspect. Imagine if voting for Trump in the US primaries were a crime for a second, and compare the scale of that to punching one alt-right neo nazi in the face.The task was so big that in the American zone, young people as a category were exempted under the rationale that they had been indoctrinated. The French didn’t bring people to court because they essentially considered the entire country guilty anyway, so they focused on specific high crimes, but they still had to fire a huge numbers of teachers due to their role in indoctrinating young people, so many they had to let some back on probation to cover all the vacancies.

Denazification was considered so necessary that it went on even in countries occupied by the Germans, not just Germany itself.

Even after denazification ended, (it was viewed as an overreaction by the new West German government composed of the non-soviet zones) several people were banned from working for the government in the future, and the new German constitution in place today gives the ability to ban political parties to their federal constitutional court. Imagine for a moment if the next President of the US had to amend the US constitution to allow the Supreme Court to ban political parties because nazis undermined democracy that much in the US. That is the level of threat they are legitimately facing right now.

I don’t say this in support of these measures, but rather to give us context: One person punching another in the face over this will be us getting off easy. Fascist regimes have ended up much worse, and while I’m heartened by the existing non-violent acts of resistance, I would not be surprised if violence ends up being viewed by Americans as necessary to prevent the worst of what Trump may have in store for the US. And of course that’s regrettable because assault is a crime. But it may have been the morally correct thing to do. Or the politically necessary thing. So we should stop wasting time having an actual debate about whether minor acts of violence to prevent genocide is morally excusable, because of course they are. Preventing fascism by opposing confirmed nazis is pretty much a moral duty, and it’s difficult to over-react to an imperative like that.

I honestly can’t say for sure whether violence will be necessary to stop American fascism. I know there are non-violent ways to do it. I don’t know how effective they will be. (In an ideal world, non-violent activism can solve any political problem. However, the US has in many ways been trending away from those ideals that empower non-violence, and it will be a matter of effective messaging and resistance to make progress. I will be thrilled, of course, if they can resist fascism without hurting anyone) But I do know hand-wringing over vigorous opposition to fascism is stupid.

(more…)

It’s beginning to look like the name of a Guns N’ Roses album.

The leaders of two opposition parties are being held without charges after participating in a forum critical of the country’s new 2013 constitution law. A trade unionist is also being held.

Sadly, Mr. Bainimarama’s government is not an unpopular one, (and for all I know he does good work on issues other than civil liberties and has done some genuinely good things post-coup, it’s somewhat difficult to get news on anything except the aborted attempt to change their flag. The expat Fijians I know all seem to think he’s done well) but still, it really needs to get its act together. Arresting the leader of the opposition is a serious thing, and while I absolutely do think that MPs are subject to the law like the rest of us, there should be no question of illegality for a peaceful gathering to discuss the constitution. That’s not a security concern in a democratic country, it’s people exercising their rights to freedom of assembly, which no longer exists in Fiji. Now, if there were evidence they were stockpiling arms or planning another military coup, that would be different, but I think it highly unlikely that’s the case, given that one of the opposition party leaders turned himself in.

Biman Prasad‘s house has been searched for documents and a laptop has been seized by police, presumably on the hunt for something appropriately “subversive” to charge him with so he can be arrested as a threat to governmental security. For his political opinions. This is exactly the sort of thing that “freedom of expression” is supposed to prevent, and without that right, Fiji really doesn’t have even the dregs of democracy it could lay claim to before, and its elections are a complete farce, as opposed to merely slanted in Frank Bainimarama’s favour.

Johnson vs United States has concluded, and the US Supreme Court has ruled that Three Strikes laws are unconstitutionally vague, and cannot be enforced.

Where does this leave our own Three Strikes law? People actually involved in the justice system have been claiming it doesn’t work for various reasons.

Hopefully as ACT is now largely irrelevant, the government will soften or repeal the amendement act passed in 2010, or it will be gone when the government changes. The only real support for the law seems to be in the mis-named SST, who are claiming credit for it dropping reported crime rates, despite the law not being in effect long enough to have made a difference as anything other than a deterrent. (And there’s an argument against its powers as a deterrent in the link I provided above)

One of the more ludicrous problems with importing extreme right-wing legislation from the USA is that it’s often poorly drafted, doesn’t fit within legal principles, and just plain doesn’t work. If this is all ACT is going to bring in its coalition agreements, it’s a good thing the party is on electorate life-support. There is a reason why the previous law set guidelines for sentencing but largely left the specifics to judges: Judges can inject context of the crime into their decision and adjust sentences up or down as is appropriate to the crime, and parole can be used to address cases where either the judge was too harsh, or the person convicted has responded well to rehabilitation. The Three Strikes law undermines both of those advantages to normal sentencing and parole regime.

Let’s say one coalition group bans certain kinds of protest, with disproportionate penalties for those involved, removes democratically elected regional representatives and refuses to reinstate full elections for the area, and proposes to allow our international spying agency to spy domestically, despite also having a domestic spying agency for that job, and then refuses to answer questions on the matter.

The other coalition group proposes to use some seed money to build houses which it will later recoup, and to set up a single-payer system to keep power prices down while still allowing generators to make a reasonable profit.

One of these coalitions could be forgiven for comparing the other to an authoritarian regime like the Soviet Union.

If you thought it was the first one, then you either have no idea about what being an authoritarian means, or you’re a National Party hack. (because at this stage, who’s even left in the Act or United Future parties, and does the Maori Party really ever want to go into coalition with National again?) I wouldn’t care to speculate between ignorance and malice, however.

The single payer model has been shown to work very well in cases where there is a captive market, like for power and healthcare, where consumers can only choose between providers, but have little choice about whether to buy or not. This is well-tested policy, which anyone who took an interest in politics as anything other than a points-scoring exercise should know. This is the first strong policy announcement by Labour and the Greens, and it was presented as a complementary approach with both parties adopting synergistic policies, and competing in a friendly manner for our vote.

Both parties’ job now is to keep following this precedent. Labour has finally realised it has room to its left, and the Greens have welcomed them to the club again. If Shearer can restrain himself from moving back right, and maintain genuine populism instead of the fake middle-of-the-road sort of nonsense we were seeing before, we could be looking at the beginning of a change in government.

The United States remains, at the moment, the last country without sensible regulation of firearms. Mostly due to a backwards and mendacious intepretation of a constitutional clause that was intended to allow people to fight in defense of their country.

But the Newtown killings threaten to change all that, and this is a good thing. While I don’t believe full disarmament is possible, and that it’s reasonable for people to carry rifles for self-defense or hunting, that doesn’t mean that some sort of massacre-prevention law is not necessary. It has been done in Australia, and America can do it too. While in terms of overall crime gun violence is not the largest problem, it is actually one of the easiest to solve, and only involves US Democrats standing up to an outsized lobby that doesn’t reflect the views of its members. Even NRA members favour reasonable massacre-prevention laws that might curtail some less useful or necessary gun rights.

For instance, while I would actually argue that legal adults are indeed entitled to own a single military weapon, there’s no need to allow them to buy unlimited amounts of ammunition unless there’s an imminent threat of invasion. Also, there’s no excuse for ever allowing a concealed firearm of any type- any gun carried should either be clearly visible, or be carried in a safety case that clearly notes it contains a firearm, and should always be carried separately from its ammunition.

Also, unless your job requires a handgun, I don’t see why anyone should ever have one outside of a firing range. Give police the right to inspect people for firearms and ammunition carried illegally in addition to this, and it becomes much harder for people to commit massacres, and your massacres are limited to less potent weapons in general, and people are less likely to commit them- see the difference in terms of a Japanese crime along the same lines. The killer with the knife was unable to injure or murder anywhere near as many people.

Now, I’m not an expert on these matters, but this isn’t a circle that needs to be squared. It’s a triangle where one side of the debate has been missing for many years, and Americans deserve safe schools and safe cities where gun violence doesn’t happen, and it’s quite possible to have very tight gun laws that still allow for legitimate use of firearms by, say, farmers.

As for the victim-blaming going on- look, the Newtown Killer’s mother is not to blame. She lived in a society that does not provide adequate help to people who are at risk for violent behaviour due to mental illness, (which by the way, is a clear minority) and she lived in a society where there was little to no safety net to prevent illegal use of her firearms. She is another tragic murder victim, and doesn’t deserve our criticism.

And as for the “we need MORE guns so that heroes can defeat the bad guys” or “arm teachers” memes, there’s been excellent discussion of why that’s a bad idea elsewhere, by someone who was raped and threatened by a gun owner. Unless we want vigilantes poking into all of our business, widespread gun ownership doesn’t solve as many crimes as it creates.

In any politically healthy country, the immediate, unprompted response would be an improvement of mental health services (with a focus on rehabilitating or caring for those with a risk of violent acts) and sensible gun control law. If the USA is to be a country where people feel safe, that will need to be their response this February, and now is the first time we’re being allowed to have that long-overdue conversation, which thanks to social media, the NRA cannot shut down.

Safe holidays and happy travels to all of you, most especially those of you in the USA.

Re-submit

Posted: August 13, 2012 in civil rights, democracy
Tags: , ,

The electoral commission has come back with its recommendations based on our feedback, and they’re tricky. I’ll go over them in a second, but first, I’d like to encourage everyone to read them in full,  and to make your own submission, if you have comments. If you don’t submit where you agree and disagree with the commission, further reviews will ignore your sorts of views in the future.

While on the surface of it, these recommendations might seem like mild pushes in the right direction in most areas, (other than the recommendation to allow the continued and harmful inflation of electorate seats well past three fifths of parliament) when taken in combination a few of them are deeply problematic. Rather than re-writing why, I’m going to paste my submission verbatim:

In principle I support the abolishment of the electorate threshold, but combined with the relatively high recommendation of a 4% list threshold, this is a recipe for the destruction of small parties in our political system and cannot be supported in this combination. Either both thresholds need to be abolished or neither.

I am also highly disappointed at the very high recommendation of a 4% threshold. The only functional change in this case is that established small parties will be able to more easily maintain party vote support once they start polling in the neighbourhood of five percent. This does nothing for the transition of electorate-anchored micro parties into genuine small or medium parties, who would have the chance to transition to a larger political force from a roughly .83% “win a list seat outright” threshold, or its abolition. I would also like to clarify that my support for a 1/120th of the vote threshold is not a “confusion about abolishing the threshold”, but rather an expression that the roughly .4% de-facto threshold of our formula for allocating list seats is too low, but that a 1% threshold would present a too high barrier for micro parties to transition to a party-vote strategy, as it would require parallel campaigning for both the party and electorate vote. There are genuine advantages to a small threshold between 2.5% and .4% that should not be discounted, although either option is by far preferable to the yawning gulf created between 1-person electorate parties and 4% threshold list parties that are likely to receive six or perhaps seven MPs if they just pass the threshold.

Between the electorate threshold abolition and the mere lowering of the party threshold to 4%, there is no demonstrated way for a party to transition from a single electorate MP to a multi-member party. The only party to successfully contest multiple electorates has been the Maori Party, which is a very unique case that arguably has more to do with the politics of Maori electorates than a general case for multiple electorate seat parties. Any changes we adopt must allow micro parties a feasible opportunity to expand beyond one MP.

I support the commission’s recommendations that dual candidacy and list MPs being allowed to contest by-elections continue. There are unintended consequences to those changes that could easily reduce the quality and diversity of representation in New Zealand.

I am disappointed but not altogether worried that parties are recommended to maintain control around the composition of their lists without even a mandate to hold a vote on the issue in some manner. There should be greater public participation and transparency around list selection, but still in such a way that allows political movements to have some degree of autonomy. Mandating a vote of party members is held and the results publicised, but not legislating any way that vote effects the list, would be the best way to do this. At the very least, parties should have to disclose all candidates that were nominated for their list in any fashion, and outline a formal nomination system to the public, even if it is restricted to members or the party’s inner circle. Some of these aims could be achieved without legislation, but very likely they would be restricted to a particular area of the political spectrum, which is not fair to voters of different opinions, who also deserve more say and transparency about their list candidates.

I support as a good but problematic first step the commission’s recommendation that overhang seats be abolished for parties that do not cross the party vote threshold, but I would prefer overhang seats were abolished altogether. This rule seems like an opportunity for a large party to deliberately tank their party vote and instead aggressively campaign for electorates, artificially inflating their allies’ levels of party vote support. Allowing a hole like that in our electoral system is even worse than allowing a small party to campaign only for electorate seats- at least a small party is unlikely to have the support to win more than a handful.

I think allowing a full 76 electorate seats is a risky decision that enhances the negative effects of both electorates and disproportionality. New Zealanders like to think they like electorate seats because we are enamoured of the idea of “our local MP”, but by far the least popular MPs are always in safe electorates, outside of which they are at best tolerated, but often infamous, including several small party leaders. Ideally the number of electorate seats should be capped at a third until such time as electorates are abolished in favour of some flavour of open list system, or if for some reason New Zealanders never tire of electorates, the number of MPs should grow as electorates are added to keep electorate MPs as approximately one third of the house.

In summary, I think the commission’s recommendation are moderate and well-intended, but that they do not represent any significant gains over the status-quo, and introduce new problems rather than solving existing ones. I would have been happy with moderate recommendations if they were geared to lead to a more robust electoral system that encourages participation, transparency, and political growth. (both of small parties when they represent the people well, and of good policy) While I understood that ultimately my modest but radical (as in “wanting to change the nature of our system” radical, not extremist) expectations of voting were unlikely to represent the will of the majority of submitters, I did expect more intellectual rigour from the commission’s recommendations, rather than simply taking the least objectionable path every time. The only brave stands were on dual candidacy and list MPs contending by-elections, where the commission just flat-out pointed out the ideas were dumb, although in their usual diplomatic way.
It’s a little astounding that the VERY modest support for raising the party vote threshold (usually from people who don’t understand it and just wanted to price all small parties out of existence) held back the commission from lowering it significantly. A threshold of 4% is little better than one of 5%, it’s merely stupid rather than ridiculous. 3% is the bare minimum at which small list parties start to become viable, and medium-sized list parties become safe. Any third party in New Zealand needs to become very large to avoid the possibility of decline under a 4 or 5% threshold, and as the Alliance proved, that still doesn’t prevent internal strife from ending the movement.