A PARLIAMENTARY DEMOCRACY
New Zealand is a modern parliamentary democracy. Although its style of government still follows the Westminster cabinet model, there are important distinctions. The national Government comprises a single legislature, the House of Representatives, which are elected every three years rather than the five-year cycle customary in the Westminster (British) system.
In 1993, New Zealand also adopted a new electoral system based on proportional representation. The traditional Westminster system requires that all Members of Parliament (MPs) represent a geographical electorate and are elected solely on the basis of the vote within that electorate. This is known as the 'first past the post' system and means that to be elected, an MP must obtain the highest number of votes in the electorate. Under New Zealand's MMP system (Mixed Member Proportional), the 120 MPs are elected either as Electorate MPs or as List MPs. The electoral process for Electorate MPs follows the Westminster system. However, the process for electing list MPs is quite different. List MPs do not contest a particular electorate. Future List MPs are first selected as candidates by their political party and then appointed on the basis of their party's proportion of the national vote.
After an election, the new Government may be formed in several ways. If one party wins over 50% of the national vote, it can form a Majority Government. When no single party commands a majority, the largest party may either form a Minority Government, with support from parties outside the Government, or form a Majority Coalition Government, with the support of one or more other parties. The leader of the party that won the most votes becomes the Prime Minister.
Cabinet is the decision-making hub of Government. It is headed by the Prime Minister, comprises Ministers chosen from the Members of Parliament and is supported by junior Ministers outside of Cabinet.
Queen Elizabeth II remains the constitutional Head of State but plays no active part in Government. The public responsibilities of the Crown are carried out by a New Zealand appointed and politically neutral Governor-General.
ELECTING A GOVERNMENT
Your eligibility to vote
Voting is not compulsory in New Zealand but, if you are eligible to vote, you are required to enrol as an elector. To enrol to vote you must be a permanent resident and at least 18 years old. You also need to have lived here on a continuous basis for a year and have resided in your electorate for at least one month.
Electoral records are maintained by the Registrar of Electors and are updated twice every three years. However, if you change your address it is advisable to advise the Registrar directly. Both enrolment and address changes can be arranged through New Zealand Post Shops. If there are special reasons why your name and address should not be published in the Electoral Roll, they can be registered on the unpublished roll.
The electoral process
Under the MMP system, the House of Representatives comprises 120 MPs. Of these, 51 are List MPs (candidates nominated by registered political parties prior to the General Election), 62 represent General Electorates and seven represent Maori Electorates. Only Maori and non-Maori who are registered on the Maori Roll can vote in a Maori Electorate. All other electors, both Maori and non-Maori, are registered on the General Roll.