Title: MMP and our LGBT rights Credit: Craig Young Comment Thursday 30th December 2010 - 10:50am1293659400 Article: 9741 Rights
At the next general election, New Zealand will have its third poll on whether or not we want to retain our current MMP electoral system. How does MMP treat LGBT political aspirations?   It is debatable whether First Past the Post or MMP provides any solution in itself. Much depends on the nature of the underlying civil society and demographic factors like the strength or weakness of conservative religious affiliation within it. In the case of New Zealand, Christian religious observance is declining overall, so there are few opportunities for a viable fundamentalist-based or conservative Catholic seperatist political party.   In New Zealand, MMP was the preferred electoral system after Lange administration Justice Minister Geoffrey Palmer convened a Royal Commission into the Electoral System. FPP had fallen into disrepute due to its disconnection between voter share and allocated party seat capture, enabling extremes of economic policy to be implemented during the seventies, eighties and nineties. Accordingly, an electoral reform movement emerged and gathered pace in the eighties and nineties. In 1992-3, there were two electoral reform referenda, which selected the preferred alternative electoral system to FPP, and then pitted MMP against FPP in a run-off second referendum.   Under First Past the Post, parliaments or congresses are usually dominated by two major centre-left and centre-right parties. Before 1993, these were New Zealand's National and Labour Parties.  It used to be the case that whichever of the two gained a plurality of seats gained the Treasury benches. Around the two parties, various communities of interest gravitated and embarked on pragmatic and incremental social reforms. As religious observance ebbed in the eighties, homosexual law reform became possible, as did antidiscrimination laws. Angry at their loss of influence, opportunist conservative Christians embraced the Mixed Member Proportional electoral system, much to the anger of the centre-right, which formed the Campaign for Better Government to fight the MMP option at the electoral referenda of 1992-3.   Due to the appearance of the conservative, populist (and anarchic) New Zealand First party, there was no further progress on the LGBT reform front during the rest of the nineties. However, the advent of the Clark administration and a Labour/Alliance coalition, as well as the weakness of the National Opposition led to a wave of social reforms in the 'noughties', including civil unions. While adoption reform was precluded by the interference of the Exclusive Brethren in the 2005 New Zealand General Election, New Zealand First is gone from Parliament, and tactical voting might lead to the similar demise of ACT and United Future, given their dependence on constituency seats. Granted, Britain and Canada have achieved inclusive adoption reform and same-sex marriage proper, but those are due to the existence of organised lobby groups like Stonewall (UK) and Egale (Canada), as well as Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms, leading to some New Zealand LGBT political observers to advocate the adoption of such a written constitution here. The United States is quite backward at the federal level, as well as insofar as same-sex marriage bans are concerned. Australia's Alternative Vote electoral system is used for federal and state lower hosue elections, but the Royal Commission criticised AV as decidedly non-proportional and little different from FPP.   However, the Single Transferable Vote option has led to LGBT rights advances in New South Wales, Tasmania and Ireland. While fundamentalist NSW Legislative Councillors Fred Nile and Gordon Moyes represent the divided militant fundamentalist constituency, they are not significant impediments to progressive LGBT reform today. STV does tend to privilege demographically concentrated communities of interest, be they fundamentalists or even recreational groups!   What about Germany? In order to put this debate in focus, a short description of LGBT rights in Germany might be in order. It really didn't begin until the late sixties, when the New Left emerged, due to the Stalinism of East Germany's governing Socialist Unity Party and conservative Catholicism of the centre-right Christian Democratic Union. Fortunately, West Germany underwent the same social changes as most other West European democracies and a new Green environmentalist and peace-oriented party emerged within the Bundestag to provide greater democratic diversity in the eighties as a result. East Germany decriminalised in 1968, while West Germany followed suit in 1969, although there was repression of independent LGBT political organising until the fall of communism in 1990-91.   Thereafter, the Social Democrat/Green centre-left coalition that emerged in the federal Bundestag and some state legislatures implemented various social reforms. These have included LGBT-inclusive employment antidiscrimination laws, registered partnerships and legal recognition of coparent same-sex adoption responsibilities.What about the history of (West) German electoral representation since the end of the Second World War, however? How did this situation arise?   It might be objected that the German federal political landscape is the result of divergent political history from that of New Zealand, but such objections are spurious, as closer analysis will demonstrate. Currently, Germany has a centre-right government, consisting of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats and Guido Westerwalle's Free Democrats, akin to National and ACT. Westerwalle is an out gay man. Unfortunately for Westerwalle and the FDP, there are other similarities, such as plunging party poll ratings, which render the parallels uncanny. On the centre-left, there are now three main players. The Social Democrats correspond to our Labour Party, while the German Greens are undergoing a tremendous surge in popularity, at twenty percent in current opinion polls. Like New Zealand in the nineties, there is also "The Left", which is roughly similar to the Alliance. Like the Alliance was, it is a coalition of two entities, the west German "Labour and Social Justice-Electoral Alternative" Party and the former east German Party for Democratic Socialism, which used to be the governing East German Socialist Unity Party (communists) during the days of Cold War partition.  However, the Left isn't a spoiler party. While it is undecided whether or not to align itself with the Social Democrats and German Greens, the latter could govern without it, given the Greens electoral surge. It isn't visibly splitting the centre-left vote, given that the Social Democrats have the largest share of that sector of public opinion.  What about German history, though, and its microparties. In the first three federal Bundestags, the Communist Party, far right German Party and (Catholic) Centre Party gained representation, which lapsed. The Cold War, German Party neofascism and Centre Party absorption into the Christian Democrat Union all ended independent representation, until the German Greens arose in the late seventies and early eighties.  (It should be noted that German federal MMP has stricter microparty entry criteria compared to that of New Zealand. Three constituency seats are required before a party is entitled to additional list representation if it doesn't cross the five percent threshold for list-only representation). Outside the Bundestag, there are some unrepresented microparties. The "Pirate Party" campaigns for minimalist Internet content regulation, and has some LGBT supporters, while the neofascist National Democratic Party is what one would expect- racist, anti-Muslim and anti-immigration. Thankfully, the latter only have representatives in Saxony's state parliament. Apart from these, there are social conservative, green social conservative, other neofascist and animal rights parties, far below the threshold. Despite some local influence, apart from the Pirate Party and NDP, their national impact is minimal.   MMP has much to commend it. It leads to stable government and greater diversity in political representation, but its five percent threshold prevents extremist organisations from gaining a durable toehold within the New Zealand Parliament. United Future only gained initial representation because it downplayed the militant fundamentalism of its List MPs before 2002. Upon learning that was indeed the case,the electorate remedied the situation in 2005. Today, it is on the verge of extinction. Germany has had similar outcomes insofar as the NDP is concerned, thankfully- which is more than can be said for the similar French National Front under France's Alternative Vote electoral system.   No wonder anti-MMP groups want an end to this electoral option here, then. It is the fault of ACT and the Free Democrats that their extremist policies have led to their electoral demise, as well as ACT's endemic factional infighting. If New Zealand's LGBT communities and other progressives can block the return of New Zealand First and get rid of ACT and United Future, then we stand a good chance of completing our legislative reform agenda within the next five to ten years.   We do not need this referendum. MMP has done nothing in itself to slow the progress of LGBT rights. We need to display more tactical and strategic sophistication if we are to break the current inertial conservative logjam of the National Party, however.   Craig Young - 30th December 2010    
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