MMP and Strategic Capacity

The adoption of Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) electoral system (beginning with the 1996 elections) is likely to have enormous impact on the conduct of government, but perhaps nowhere more than in strategic capacity. I expect the capacity of government to think strategically - develop and implement coherent plans over a period of years - to be diminished by MMP. If the 1996 (or a subsequent) national election were to result in a minority government or a multiparty coalition, it might be difficult to obtain agreement on objectives and priorities and even more difficult to stay the course throughout the term of government. In coalition governments, the most expedient course might be for each ministry or department to unilaterally define its strategic direction. There might be a multiplicity of loosely drawn, somewhat contradictory SRAs, especially if, as sometimes happens, the finance ministry were entrusted to one party and the social welfare or health ministry to another. Paradoxically, it is when government is fragmented and strategic coherence is at risk that steps are most needed to ward off a babble of plans that pull the government in contradictory directions.

The Fiscal Responsibility Act is partly an outgrowth of the adoption of MMP. When FRA was under consideration, some proposed that the government be bound to preset fiscal norms. This idea was abandoned in favour of three concepts that may be applicable to other aspects of government policy and strategy. First, a set of guidelines to influence but not restrict government policy; second, a medium-term perspective; and, finally, transparency in public policy. These may be useful building blocks for making policy in the new world of MMP.

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