New Zealand’s system of government – an overview
New Zealand is a democratic country in which the members of parliament (MPs) are chosen in free and fair elections. Citizens and permanent residents who are aged 18 years and over are required to enrol to vote. Voting is not compulsory, but turnout is high by international standards (although trending lower).
New Zealand has a single chamber of parliament which consists of the House of Representatives, which generally has 120 MPs, and the Governor-General (who does not personally attend the house). The house is elected for a maximum three-year term using the mixed member proportional (MMP) system. Every New Zealand citizen who is enrolled as an elector is eligible to be a candidate for election as an MP.
The government is accountable to parliament for its actions and policies. So ministers are answerable to parliament for their own actions and policies and for the actions and policies of the departments and state agencies for which they are responsible. Most ministers are members of cabinet, which is the main decision-making body of the government. Much of parliament’s scrutiny role is carried out by select committees.
New Zealand has an unwritten constitution and is a constitutional monarchy. The Queen of New Zealand, Queen Elizabeth II, is the Head of State. The Queen’s representative in this country is the Governor-General who has all the powers of the Queen in relation to New Zealand. Although an integral part of the process of government, the Queen and the Governor-General remain politically neutral and do not get involved in the political contest. The Governor-General does play an important constitutional role in the calling of elections, the life of Parliament, and the formation of a government.
New Zealand also has sub-national elected government bodies including territorial local authorities, district health boards, and school boards of trustees.