Design digest: democracy in New Zealand

According to the annual Democracy Index, compiled and published by the Economist Intelligence Unit, New Zealand has been ranked fourth worldwide, after three Scandinavian countries (Norway, Iceland and Sweden).

The Democracy Index collects data in five categories: electoral process; civil liberties; government function; political participation; and political culture. Accordingly, a country can be said to be one of four types of regime: full democracy; flawed democracy; hybrid regime; and authoritarian regime.

New Zealand can be characterized as both a constitutional monarchy (with an unwritten constitution) and a parliamentary democracy. The political system consists of a unicameral legislature, whose 120 members are elected by a variation of proportional representation in which voters cast one ballot for their preferred party and another for their preferred candidate (there are seven dedicated seats for the Maori ethnic minority); a Prime Minister, who appoints the government; and a Governor General, who is elected but represents the Queen of England, New Zealand’s formal head of state.

According, again, to the Democracy Index, New Zealand’s system is weakest in terms of participation and political culture, with fears expressed in certain quarters, perhaps controversially, that younger voters are not sufficiently enamored of liberal democracy as a political regime.

Does New Zealand have a “political culture conducive to the thriving of democratic principles?” We may find out later this year, as the country will hold a general election in September 2017.


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