disenfranchised… again

March 20th, 2008

New Zealand has an election this year. Yes, I know, stating the bloody obvious. Everybody’s seen intense coverage of the run-up to the election plastered all over the international media. Chinese people I pass on the streets say, “Hey, you look like a Kiwi! What do you think of the election this year? Which parties are looking good?”

Uh, yeah.

Anyway, there’s one thing that really, really bugs me about New Zealand’s electoral laws. I have only been eligible to vote in two elections: 1996 and 1999. Every election since (1999, 2002, 2005 and this year), at least according to the rules posted by the Electoral Commission or one of its sister agencies online, I’ve been ineligble to vote. Why? Dirty, filthy, unpatriotic me has been out of New Zealand too long:

Yes, if you are 18 years of age or older and either: a New Zealand citizen and have been in New Zealand in the past three years, or a New Zealand permanent resident who has been in New Zealand in the past 12 months, then you may enrol.

Your electorate will be the one in which you last lived for a month or more.

(Notes: There are exceptions to these time limits for certain people and their families, such as members of the New Zealand Defence Force or New Zealand diplomats or trade representatives.)

Note: I am not a member of the New Zealand Defence Force or a diplomat or trade representative, nor are any members of my family. Indeed, probably the only member of my family who could squeak me through such a loophole, my wife, is a Chinese citizen.  And note that “a New Zealand citizen and have been in New Zealand in the past three years”? Yeah, in each of the elections since 1999 I’ve been outside of New Zealand for longer than three years. 2002 was particularly frustrating in that respect: The election happened while I was on a flight from Beijing to Hong Kong. I read the results in that day’s South China Morning Post, bought in transit in HK as I was about to board a flight to Auckland. Had that election been held one month later, I would’ve been eligible to vote. Only one month.

But actually, I’ve only voted in one election: 1996. In 1999, the election was just one month after I arrived in China. I got my voting papers from the NZ embassy, but they arrived only two days before the due date. I was in Changsha, quite some distance from the nearest NZ consulate or embassy. I thought, well, I don’t know who I’d vote for anyway, through the voting papers in the rubbish, and shrugged it off. Well, my last address in NZ was my parents’ address in Papakowhai, where I’d spent three months looking for a job in Wellington and then waiting for the flight to China. Before then I’d spent four and a half years in Dunedin. Had I stayed there, or had the election been held while I was still there, I would’ve known enough about the local candidates to make a choice, and of course I could’ve chosen a party for the party vote. Sitting there in Changsha with no idea of who the candidates in my parents’ electorate were just tipped the cynicism and political ennui just far enough over the barrier to kill any remaining desire to try and get my papers to the nearest polling station in time.

Since then, I haven’t been eligible to vote anyway, and so I just shrugged it off with an oh well, all the parties suck, so the party vote would be a horrible, degrading experience of choosing the least suckiest party- sorta similar to going to Blabla Bar back before Wudaokou took off because that’s where everybody was and there wasn’t much in the way of options locally- so big deal.

So I’m disenfranchised.

That’s right, people, I am a New Zealand citizen, but I am denied one of the most fundamental rights of citizenship in a democratic state simply because I live overseas.

I really should go home more often, I guess. Had I set foot in New Zealand at any time in the last three years, I’d be able to vote.

I guess I’m far, far from the only Kiwi in this position. New Zealand does have a rather high rate of expatriation. So here’s what I think: New Zealand’s electoral laws should be changed so that all New Zealand citizens over 18 years of age should be eligible to vote in all national elections regardless of where they live. Those of us who have lived overseas for three years or me should be at least allowed to cast a party vote (which electorate would I enroll in, anyway? I have no particular ties to my “last known address” in NZ, and no permanent address there). Really, set up a “diaspora” electorate for us expats. We don’t need an electorate MP- how would you work that anyway?- but let us cast a party vote.

After all, four million Kiwis back home, plus up to one million (according to some estimates, and considering the figures for Kiwis living in Oz and Pommieland, I suspect it could well be more) scattered around the world, many of whom have no electorate to enroll in back home- and don’t forget, we’re known for our loyalty to New Zealand (more than a few poor sods who had the misfortune to be born outside Aotearoa have told me that Kiwis are the people you meet in the weirdest, remotest, most paradisical place, and who tell you constantly how great life is back home), so why shouldn’t we be allowed our say?

And yet even if I were to be re-enfranchised, who would I vote for? Given the sheer idiocy the Greens have been spouting about China recently, I might actually have to consider [gulp] voting Labour [shudder- off to take a long, hot shower, that thought leaves me feeling so soiled]. What other options are there on the left/progressive/environmental  end of the spectrum?

Tangent: That last question was not meant to imply the Greens were ever left. It’s their environmental policies that I like, and I think, despite their inane, one-dimensional ramblings about China, we need them in Parliament.

Another tangent: Hey, wait! Maybe this Pakeha lad could vote for the Maori Party! I think we need them in Parliament just as much as we need the Greens! No, wait, I’m


in my own country’s elections. Anyway, the Maori Party looks pretty much set to get a very healthy slice of Parliament, thanks to Maori seats, the party vote, and smart Maori voters. And good on ’em, too.

Anyways, I don’t know why it’s been bugging me so much this year. Perhaps it’s the air of arrogance surrounding the Labour-led government? Maybe it’s because I’ve recently been making an effort to check out more of the Kiwi blogosphere? Dunno. And there’s still a good chance that even if I were allowed to vote, I’d still abstain as a protest at the lack of viable options. Whatever, it’d still be nice to have the choice- and abstention is a valid choice (unless you’re Australian, in which case abstention is illegal). But I am denied that choice because I have been outside New Zealand for more than three years, and I have been denied that choice in every election since 1999.

It has occured to me at various points in my time in China to right to MPs about this. I’m not sure which minister is responsible for electoral issues (Justice would be my assumption…) but the Prime Minister, as the head of government, should be a suitable subsitute. Foreign Affairs seems completely inappropriate considering I am a New Zealand citizen by right of birth. And if I wrote to the Prime Minister, it would seem appropriate to write to the leaders of all the parties in Parliament asking for their view. I wonder, though: Are MPs required by law to reply to people living outside New Zealand as they are required to reply to those living in New Zealand? Should be, right? I mean, I am a citizen of New Zealand…. Oh, yes, I have been denied the right to vote for how long now?…

Well, we head up to Yanqing tomorrow. A friend of lzh’s is getting married this weekend. So if I do get off my arse and start writing to MPs, it may well have to wait. But for now, I will simply issue a feral howl into the wilderness:


We could, and should be an important constituency!

2 Responses to “disenfranchised… again”

  1. michael Says:

    Sorry, don’t agree – why should you have s say in the leadership of a country you don’t intend to live in for the term of the next parliament and haven’t lived in for a long time? Doesn’t make sense to me. Give expats the vote and you end up with situations like the UK where key seats can be influenced by votes from long term emigres who reside in Florida and Australia. Italian politicians even come to Oz on electioneering tours to get their expat votes.
    No, maybe you could be an ‘overseas’ constituency MP just like they have seats for Maori. By moving overseas you’ve disenfranchised yourself.

  2. wangbo Says:

    Michael, perhaps I should explain that under NZ’s MMP system, each voter has two votes: One for an electorate MP whose job is supposed to be to represent a local area, and one for the party of preference.

    Yes, I would find it distasteful if the elections of electorate MPs were distorted by expat voters, and if I were still eligible to vote, I would not cast a vote for an electorate MP precisely because I have expatriated myself. How could I possibly judge which candidate is best for an electorate I don’t live in?

    However, I do have an interest in the outcome of the election, and the election results will impact my life. Therefore, while I am quite happy for expats to be denied an electorate vote, I do think we should be allowed a party vote.That way, expats will not have any undue influence on the elections of local electorate MPs, but we will be allowed a say in the direction of a country we are still loyal to, and whose choice of government will affect us.

    If we had Australia’s STV system, or if we’d stuck with FPP, I would probably agree with you.