Democracy FAQ


  1. What is New Zealand’s system of government?
  2. When did Kiwis first vote for a government?
  3. How often do Kiwis vote?
  4. What was FPP?
  5. What is MMP?
  6. What happens to my vote if I don’t use it?

What is New Zealand’s system of government?

New Zealand’s democracy is a representative democracy. Representative democracy is a variety of democracy founded on the principle of elected officials representing a group of people, as opposed to direct democracy. All modern Western-style democracies are types of representative democracies.

Since 1996, our democracy has also been run on the principle of proportional representation under the MMP system.

Our democratic system has never been fully representative, nor is it fully proportional today.


When did Kiwis first vote for a government?

In 1852 the Parliament of the United Kingdom passed “An Act to Grant a Representative Constitution to the Colony of New Zealand”, the New Zealand Constitution Act 1852.

New Zealand’s first general election was held in 1853 under the FPP system.

There were 5,849 people registered to vote. The number of electoral districts was 24, and some districts elected multiple MPs. The total number of seats was 37. Some parts of the colony were not part of any district, and did not have representation in Parliament.

To qualify as a voter, one needed to be male, to be a British subject, to be at least 21 years old, to own a certain value of land, and to not be serving a criminal sentence.

Things were different back then. But the most important difference is that there were no political parties in New Zealand’s first Parliament. All MPs were independents.


How often do Kiwis vote?

New Zealand general elections generally occur every three years. The term of Parliament and the timing of general elections is set out in the Constitution Act 1986 and the Electoral Act 1993.

General elections were held in 1853, 1855, 1860-61, 1866, 1868, 1871, 1875–76, 1879, 1881 and then every three years until 1914.

The First World War delayed the next election by two years until 1919. The 1935 election was a year late due to the Great Depression. After the 1938 election, the next election was delayed until 1943 by the Second World War.

And then every three years until the first “snap” election was called a year early by the first National PM Sidney Holland and held in 1951. It’s been every three years since then.


What was FPP?

FPP is a system with some peculiar outcomes.


What is MMP?

What we have now.

What happens to my vote if I don’t use it?