Constitution of New Zealand

Status: Monarchy under Queen Elizabeth II

Elections organisation: Electoral Commission

Legislature: Parliament

New Zealandis a constitutional monarchy and parliamentary democracy, with Queen Elizabeth II titular head of state, represented in the country by the governor-general.

There is a unicameral House of Representatives, directly elected on a three-year term, with universal suffrage for everyone over 18. The number of MPs rose from 99 to 120 in 1996, under the new electoral system when the country moved to a form of proportional representation known as MMP (mixed member proportional). Voters have an electorate vote and a party vote. The former is used to select the local MP (since the 2001 census, when the number and shape of constituencies were last determined, 69 are elected on first-past-the-post basis, including seven representing Maori constituencies), while the latter is used to select a party and determine the total number of seats for each party in parliament. All parties polling more than 5% of this vote (or with at least one electorate seat) are entitled to further seats based on the proportion of the party votes cast. Normally 51 members are party MPs but this number can be increased (increasing the total number of seats in parliament for the term) when a party wins more electorate seats than it is entitled to according to the party vote. This happened for the first time in September 2005, when there was a single Maori Party ‘overhang’ MP.

The prime minister is appointed by the governor-general on the basis of party strength in the House of Representatives and the prime minister appoints a cabinet.

The MMP system is designed to prevent domination by a majority group and to give voice to minorities, under-represented in Westminster (first-past-the-post) systems. It is also intended to encourage voting on the basis of policies rather than a party bloc. In the first election under MMP, the proportion of women MPs rose by half to about one-third of the total and the Maori community obtained representation to match its 13% share in the population.