As countdown begins, nervous wait dominates

Issue 377, September 15, 2017

Early voting has begun and the election campaign has entered its final phase. People overseas began exercising their franchise on September 6 and the rest of New Zealanders will go to polls on September 23.

General Election 2017 is truly underway.

If history is any indication, it is time for a change in government. For most of it the past century and thus far in this Millennium, it has been 3+3+3 for a single party or a major party-led to be in office. Thereafter, the other camp takes charges. The cycle has continued, every nine years.

National dominance

The dominance of the National Party or the National-led government appeared to be invincible until recently. The Party maintained an almost conceited opinion that it would return to the treasury benches after the general election on September 23, 2017. Many agreed, since Labour Party, the main opposition remained troubled, torn and tormented.

But no one, especially those in the echelons of National can with certainty say that they would achieve the rare feat of being in government for the fourth consecutive term.

Labour resurgence

In one decisive move, Andrew Little and Jacinda Ardern changed the destiny of the Labour Party and altered the course of the New Zealand polity. Faced with a certain defeat, Andrew had little choice than to forfeit his post as the Leader and again, on the face of fear of extinction, Jacinda took over, as it was ordained.

What followed was truly dramatic. With her enchanting smile, modest disposition, courage of conviction and genuine concern for people, Jacinda began to turn the wave of approval towards her and her party; and for the first time in ten years, Labour is ahead of National in opinion polls and Jacinda is leading as the preferred Prime Minister.

But these should not send the wrong signal that the war is over.

Opinion Polls are just that- opinions and not facts. The real test is about a week away and how people will react to all the campaigns and promises will be as counting begins after 7 pm on September 23.

Policies, what policies?

Political observers will clearly discern the path that this year’s general election has taken since the tightness of the race became apparent.

Policies has become less important than numbers. National has suddenly became reckless with its finances- committing billions of dollars to almost every sector of the economy. Labour is equally magnanimous although its policies lack clarity in most aspects.

Policies are not light-hearted moves or pronouncements at the spur of the moment to gain public sympathy and attention. They are drafted and discussed at various levels within a Party over time with a fair amount of public consultation.

From such a standpoint, this general election suffers the inadequacy of thought and discussion, of issues that dominate the everyday life of ordinary New Zealanders. There is more sensation than substance.

The Joy of Opposition

In a democracy, politicians who drench each other in dignity are not doing their jobs. That of Parliament is not to govern but to hold the government to account; and as a rule, it does this best when it assumes the worst about the government’s motives and competence.

The job of the opposition is not to salute the government but to pounce on its every mistake, prick its every pretension, belittle its every success, and, above all, to offer an alternative. Of course, there are times when it behoves the opposition to stress that it is ‘loyal,’ meaning that it is not traitorous. Beyond that, however, too much prating about loyalty, even in war, damages democracy’s health.

Vagaries of electioneering

Both National and Labour have made promises to put more money in the people’s accounts, either as reduced rates of tax, student loans, or as more money in health, education, law and order and so on.

Some of the promises are reckless of course.

No doubt it would be better if elections were not decided on such promises.

Happily, most are not.

But in close election campaigns, such pledges loom larger. The reason is simple: wavering voters matter much more.

A majority of voters decide in advance whom they will support (and waverers mostly cancel each other out). Voting decisions are based on voters’ social origins, political preconceptions, personal philosophies and rating of the relevant policies and performance of the contenders for office.

During campaigns, like it or not, they sensibly turn off politics in droves, making most of them immune to the hocus pocus of the likes of some politicians.

The fact that voters are sceptical of politicians and their blandishments is not a threat to democracy.

That is how democracy, in the real world, really works.


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