Politics in New Zealand
Current political system
Democracy is the current political system in New Zealand and uses the basic structure;
- We are also known as a constitutional monarchy; our government ‘advises’ a Sovereign, who is considered the head of State
- The House of Representatives has members of Parliament who is elected every three years
Our election system is called the Mixed Party Proportional or MMP system where we elect individuals or single member electorates and people elected from a party list. This means that technically any member of New Zealand can be elected into Parliament as long as they receive enough votes as an electorate or party vote.
Transparency and Freedom of Speech
Transparency, specifically corruption of administration is a concern, especially for . New Zealand has always had a high ranking in the Corruption Perceptions Index, although by 2015, they have lost their top ranking to five with a score of 88.
New Zealand is also considered a country with the highest levels of freedom globally according to a 2013 Global Freedom Index where freedom of speech was a variable. Freedom of speech is considered an important component of transparency as countries who embrace this ideal tend to produce more information and share it.
Therefore, governments who enable freedom of speech are more likely to allow participation of citizens in ‘reform movements’ as a civil and lawful society which in turn decreases corruption (Using ICTs to create a culture of transparency: E-government and social media as openness and anti-corruption tools for societies). As New Zealand is considered high on both aspects we presume that citizens have opportunities to express their opinions on government more freely than others.
Translating perceptions into action
Instead of looking for monetary profit per se, members of the government are looking to serve the greater public interest and gain their ‘loyalty’ to the Party that the individual may be affiliated with among other reasons.
According to New Zealand Parliamentarians and Online Social Media (Feb 2011), social media is now considered the most important tool for knowledge gathering in comparison to newspapers, radio or television.
As collective representatives of citizen’s interest, it would be considered a given that politicians, as individuals and as a group are interested in keeping up with societal demands and desires just as businesses do. Hence, it is only natural, that politicians would utilise social media in turn due to its greater importance for knowledge sharing and gathering.
Social media has become a popular tool for politicians to make people aware of values and issues they believe are important for their followers to be aware of. Also, it is a platform where people can communicate with the politicians they wish to commend, question, or condemn directly, though how directly is at the discretion of the politician themselves.
Facebook and surprisingly WordPress have are more popular than the global average, much like the statistics provided in Week One suggested about people using social media in New Zealand. There is a large variety of political parties activity with the Green Party’s heavily utilised social media accounts, to the Prime Minister’s, National leader John Key’s large following on social media.
Like businesses, however, ‘follows’ or ‘likes’ does not constitute real value necessarily unless politicians find a way to utilise the information they are receiving from constituents. Furthermore, political parties tend to have the already ‘converted’ due to the similarity of policies, knowledge and values they espouse in comparison to the follower which could also be said about people following businesses. Thus, these groups just like businesses run the same risks of having social media accounts, including lack of resources and time
However, politicians tend to have more contentious issues to deal with than most businesses in New Zealand due to each eligible citizen’s ability to vote and express their opinions. The New Zealand flag is a recent expression of social media’s role in politics.
Kiwi Flag Debate
A proposed change that has not been more since the anti-smacking law, people had selected to keep the flag at a relatively close finish at just over 60%. This is despite predictions of a much higher difference between keeping the flag and changing it based on polls and social media ‘noise’. There were two referendums New Zealand voters could participate in;
- First referendum: Which alternative flag design do you prefer?
- Second referendum: Do you want to keep the original or the new design?
There are a number of reasons why this has people strongly divided the people who were for the flag and against it.
- At face value, it was about whether tradition or change was needed based on essentially public opinion including many saying it insulted people who have fought under the flag including WWII veterans
- Secondly, the cost of the process had totalled twenty-six million, some believed it was not much and others believed it could have had better use for it elsewhere
- The process was also said to be flawed with the ability to have even amateurs submit flags, a low turnout for the event done by the selection team and even some criticisms of who was selected for the team
- Other reasons included the loss of the Union Jack would mean loss of the Treaty of Waitangi terms and the supposed ego stroke intentions of John Key
Despite these criticisms, however, the 40% who had selected to change shows that not everyone expresses their opinions quite as freely than those who openly comment. Much of the ageing population would typically not be freely using social media as the younger, more vocal generation.
However, this has not stopped politicians from using social media to help influence voters’ decisions. The Green Party had brought forward the Red Peak NZ Flag as a fifth option in the first referendum. John Key had been the person to ‘represent’ the movement but other influential figures including national sporting hero Richie McCaw supporting change. Naturally, as opposition to National, the Labour Party had opposed the change and supporters such as Nigel Latta agreed.
Having a myriad of different opinions being openly expressed is not only a social media trait but also a trait of how we are able to have such dialogues in New Zealand. We are lucky to have such freedoms despite the inherent costs involved.