The mixed member proportional representation system and minority representation :: a case study of women and Māori in New Zealand (1996-2011)

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University of New Brunswick
This dissertation examines the relationship between women and Māori descriptive and substantive representation in New Zealand’s House of Representatives as a result of the Mixed Member Proportional electoral system. The Mixed Member Proportional electoral system was adopted in New Zealand in 1996 to change the homogenous nature of the New Zealand legislative assembly. As a proportional representation system, MMP ensures that voters’ preferences are proportionally reflected in the party composition of Parliament. Since 1996, women and Māori (and other minority and underrepresented groups) have been experiencing significant increases in their numbers in parliament. Despite these increases, there remains the question of whether or not representatives who ‘stand for’ these two groups due to shared characteristics will subsequently ‘act for’ them through their political behaviour and attitudes. With more studies emerging on the effects of electoral reform on minority representation, this study is timely in examining the effects of the Mixed Member Proportional system on the representation of women and Māori in New Zealand. Descriptive representation is defined and analysed in the study as the number of women and Māori who occupies seats in New Zealand’s Parliament and Cabinet. Substantive representation on the other hand is more difficult to analyse and quantify, and so a multipronged approach was adopted to better assess the extent to which female and Māori MPs “act” on behalf of women and Māori once elected to parliament. These include discourse analysis on parliamentary speeches in areas that can be considered women’s issues or Māori issues, content analysis of Members’ Bills introduced by women and Māori MPs and interview research.