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New Zealand’s Electoral System Review Sparks Debate Over Voting Age and Parliamentary Terms

by Rahil M
0 comment

The review was initiated under Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s government and aimed to address inequities, remove barriers, and future-proof the existing mixed-member proportional (MMP) system.

New Zealand’s three-year parliamentary term is among the shortest globally. Proponents argue that the shorter term enhances accountability, while critics contend that it restricts the government’s effectiveness and leads to rushed lawmaking.

The government, while rejecting specific recommendations like lowering the voting age, expressed the intention to consider others.

After a comprehensive two-year review of New Zealand’s electoral system, the Independent Electoral Review released a 525-page document with 117 recommendations aiming to enhance clarity, fairness, and honour the Treaty of Waitangi. While the panel suggested lowering the voting age to 16, the government rejected the proposal, citing concerns about the capacity of 16-year-olds to make informed decisions. Justice Minister Paul Goldsmith also ruled out allowing prisoners to vote or stand for parliament.

The review was initiated under Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s government and aimed to address inequities, remove barriers, and future-proof the existing mixed-member proportional (MMP) system. One of the key recommendations was lowering the voting age, asserting the capability of 16-year-olds to make informed decisions about voting. However, the government, in response, decided against this change, maintaining the voting age at 18.

This decision comes after a landmark Supreme Court ruling in 2022 that deemed the existing voting age of 18 discriminatory. The court ruled that it breached the human rights of young people, leading Ardern’s government to promise legislation to lower the age to 16. Disappointment surfaced among campaigners, such as Make it 16, who brought the case, stating that being unable to vote was disempowering for young individuals.

Sage Garrett, co-director of Make it 16, expressed disappointment, highlighting the desire and capability of young people to contribute to decisions affecting them, such as those related to public transport and education. Despite this setback, the government has agreed to initiate a referendum on the length of parliamentary terms, a move supported by the National Party as part of its coalition agreement with the Act party.

New Zealand’s three-year parliamentary term is among the shortest globally. Proponents argue that the shorter term enhances accountability, while critics contend that it restricts the government’s effectiveness and leads to rushed lawmaking. The review panel acknowledged the finely balanced arguments for and against a change in the parliamentary term and recommended a referendum.

The panel’s recommendations extended beyond the voting age and parliamentary term. It proposed lowering the party threshold from 5% to 3.5%, allowing more smaller parties to enter parliament. The extension of the time New Zealand citizens could vote without returning to the country was also suggested, along with entrenching Māori electorates and modernizing the language of the Electoral Act.

Addressing concerns about political decisions and undue influence, the panel recommended restricting donations and loans to parties and candidates to individuals enrolled to vote. This would exclude entities like trusts, companies, unions, and iwi (tribes) from providing funds. Additionally, the panel proposed capping donations from individuals at $30,000 per party for each election cycle and reducing the amount of anonymous donations from $1,500 to $500.

The government, while rejecting specific recommendations like lowering the voting age, expressed the intention to consider others. Goldsmith stated that the government would carefully evaluate the remaining recommendations put forth by the panel. The review process involved over 7,500 submissions, international case studies, research, and an examination of previous reports and recommendations.

Chair of the Independent Electoral Review, Deborah Hart, presented the report with optimism, anticipating the evolution of electoral law to meet the changing needs of society. This report aims to provide space for more voices and future innovation in New Zealand’s electoral processes.

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