Friday, 24 October 2008

Going Green - Part II

And so, living in the capital, as we do, and being excited about New Zealand's system of government, we decided to get involved.

So I registered my interest in volunteering for the Green Party. Turns out, what with the campaign being only six weeks long, there's not a whole lot of volunteer work that needs doing. But I have participated in a couple of events.

The first was an event to announce the Green's platform on transportation. They got a bus parked in a big open space by the waterfront, next to it they had volunteers line up fifty cars. Next to that they had volunteers line up fifty bicycles. The idea was to get a visual on how much more space cars take up on the road. So we showed up with our bicycles and participated. After they did othe photo shoot, they had us do a couple laps around the parked bus and cars. Then Jeanette Fitzsimons, co-leader of the party, gave a speech outlining their new transportation policy. The Wellington wind was up to it's usual mischief, and poor Ms. Fitzsimons looked more than a little wind-blown by the end of it. But such things happen when you're a Wellington politician. Here's one of the photos from the event:

Car,bus, bike Wellington-4

The event made 2nd page of the local paper. They used a photo of Ms. Fitzsimons with the bus and cars in the background.

Believe it or not I still have plenty to say on the topic of politics and New Zealand. More to come.. next time.

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Going Green

My goodness, I guess it's about time I talked about New Zealand politics a little. It is, after all, one of the things that attracted us to this country. There are a lot of things about the way government runs here that are very different from the States. I just want to highlight some points of interest.

New Zealand is a parliamentary democracy.
Kinda like England. Members of parliament (MPs) are elected. They are generally analogous to the the congress and house of representatives in the states. There's a Prime Minister (PM), who is usually the leader of the party holding the largest amount of seats in parliament. The PM then forms a government (Americans, we're now talking the equivalent of the "Executive Branch") and picks cabinet members, who are also MPs. That's the basics of what a parliamentary democracy looks like. I'm not going into details on this point.

New Zealand has a Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) Voting System
This is where things get interesting. New Zealanders get two national votes. One, they pick among the MPs who are running in their district. Two, they vote for a political party in general. The party votes are counted up, and they will determine the proportion of each party represented in parliament. I'm not going to go into all the weird details of how the hell you go about making this work, see this handy wikipedia article for details.

The point is, while there are two major political parties in New Zealand, any party that gets 5% or more of the party vote gets representation in parliament. (also, any party which gets even one MP elected in a district gets representation). Why does this matter? Well for starters, say you're an American, and you don't really like either the Democrats or the Republicans all that much. In fact, there's this third party - perhaps the Green Party - that most closely represents your views. But if you vote for the Green presidential candidate, you might as well throw away your vote. It won't mean a damn thing, will it? Say the Greens have the support of 7% of the voting public (the current situation in NZ). If that 7% vote Green, in the American system, it won't accomplish a damn thing. In fact, probably a lot of them will vote Republican or Democrat instead, just to feel like they've done something useful. In New Zealand, those 7% can go ahead and vote Green, it will mean that 7% of parliament's MPs will be Green.

What can the Greens accomplish with just 7% of parliament seats? A lot more than you'd think. There are currently 9 political parties represented in NZ's parliament. Neither of the major parties - Labour and National - have a majority of the seats. That means that neither of the major parties can accomplish a thing without forming coalitions with the minor parties. (Check out Parliament NZ's site for a run down of the current MPs).

I have for a while felt that the Green Party most closely represents my values. Not only are they advocates on environmental issues, but they take a strong stance on human rights as well. And what's the coolest, is that they are a global party. While each country's Green Party is autonamous, they are all part of the global greens network. Not only is this just cool, but it speaks to the universality of their principals. In case you were wondering what those principals are, take a look at the Global Green Charter.

The point I am slowly getting to, is that I am looking foreword to voting in New Zealand's national election this year. I can't wait to vote Green, and feel that my vote actually counts.

I am not nearly finished with this topic, but for now I'll leave you with this lovely image from The Green Party of New Zealand's campaign:

vote for me