What is New Zealand’s system of government?

Our system of government is a representative democracy. Each voter has a say in who represents them in Parliament and in local government.

Every vote counts

New Zealanders over the age of 18 can vote in general elections, local elections and referendums.

Am I eligible to vote?

Enrolling to vote means you can have a say

If you’re a citizen or permanent resident aged 18 years and over, you must enrol to vote. Voting is not compulsory, but it does give you a voice in our democracy. 

Enrol now

Everyone who is enrolled to vote is also eligible to be a candidate for election as a member of Parliament (MP). 

Guidance and rules for candidates

New Zealand has a representative democracy

In a representative democracy, you vote for the people you want to represent you on issues that matter to you. During general elections, voters elect MPs to pass laws and govern the country on their behalf. 

What happens in a general election?

During local elections, voters elect councillors and board members to run essential services and respond to the needs of their towns, cities, districts and regions. 

What happens in a local election?

New Zealand is a constitutional monarchy

New Zealand has an unwritten constitution and is a constitutional monarchy. That means that the Queen of New Zealand, Queen Elizabeth II, is our Head of State. 

The Queen’s representative in New Zealand is the Governor-General. The Queen and Governor-General are politically neutral and do not get involved in elections. 

The Governor-General carries out a mixture of constitutional, ceremonial and community duties. 

Roles and functions of the Governor-General

New Zealand has three branches of government

Our system of government has three separate branches to make sure no one part of government has too much power. The three branches are:

  • the legislature (Parliament)
  • the Executive branch (the elected government)
  • the Judiciary (judges and courts)

How New Zealand’s Parliament works

Our Parliament is made up of:

  • the House of Representatives — MPs who have been elected in their electorate or from a party list
  • the Governor-General. 

The House is elected for a maximum 3-year term using the Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) voting system. 

What is MMP?

Because MMP is a proportional system, the number of votes a political party gets largely reflects the number of seats they get in Parliament.

The political party or group of parties with the most seats in the House becomes the government. Under MMP, coalitions or agreements between two or more political parties are usually needed to form a government.

Introduction to the New Zealand Parliament

Source: Office of the Clerk/Parliamentary Service. Licensed for re-use under CC BY 4.0