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 is elected every three years rather than the five-year cycle customary in the Westminster 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 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 parties. The Prime Minister leads the party or coalition which has majority support in the House of Representative. 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 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.