The General Election held on November 26, 2011 was in many ways a watershed in New Zealand politics. The National Party romped home with a stunning performance, earning 60 seats, just two shy of absolute majority to govern on its own. However, Party Leader and Prime Minister John Key had his wish of inclusive governance granted.
With one seat each for ACT (obtained through his appeal to Epsom voters) and United Future, the incoming Government is assured of adequate support to enforce its policies and programmes. The Maori Party, though reduced to three seats (from five in 2008) will also support Mr Key, strengthening his hands over national affairs. The Greens, with 13 seats, could go for ‘selective support’ bargaining on issues close to its agenda.
Political pundits say that no political party has had it so good in a hundred years.
Mr Key is indeed a lucky man. Few people have the opportunity to realise their dreams so well and fewer the good fortunate of riding on popularity wave so high for so long.
New Zealand First Leader Winston Peters would not have the opportunity of being the kingmaker this time, since Mr Key had distanced himself and his Party long before Mr Peters began a ‘grand comeback’ in opinion polls.
Indubitably, the ‘John Key Charisma’ worked for National as it did in 2008. Rated high as the most preferred Prime Minister in all opinion pools to date, he convinced people that there was no real alternative to his Party and that he and his Government were doing their best in the worst of times.
Voters throughout the country believed him and even pitied him for having confronted a series of disasters including the Christchurch Earthquakes and aftershocks, the Pike River Mine tragedy that left 29 men dead and in recent weeks the Rena oil spill. They rewarded him with a spectacular victory at the polls last weekend.
National, even critics admitted, is at its best.
The Labour Party was the worst performer in this Election, with just 34 seats in the new Parliament, down from 43 in 2008. A number of Labour stalwarts were in a sombre mood on election night.
While its officials and supporters may attribute low turnout at the pools to the Party’s disastrous performance, the reality is that its policies and programmes failed to convince voters in the larger perspective.
Sinking to an all-time low, Labour managed just 27% of the votes polled. The Party will enter the next Parliament with its members humbled and wounded.
General elections are usually such an enigma to contestants, party workers and the voting public alike, that they offer both solace and chagrin to political parties.
Election 2011 has further humbled the Labour Party and its leader Phil Goff.
It is indeed a pity that despite several good policies on its agenda, Labour failed to convince a majority of New Zealanders. Just why such populists programmes as Capital Gains Tax and Skills Policy failed to impress voters remains a mystery.
Even in some of its stronghold constituencies, the Party won with lower margins compared to the previous election.
A quick analysis of the polling pattern and the results would indicate that even in areas of its presumed and erstwhile stronghold, Labour failed to woo voters to its camp, a clear signal that they were put off by the party’s recent approaches to politics.
While staunch supporters continued to rally behind Labour and Mr Goff, it would appear that most of the ‘undecided voters’ cast their votes either in favour of National or other minor parties.
It is often said that everyone has hindsight and that even the uninitiated becomes an expert in a post-mortem analysis.
The worst and most unfortunate casualty in this year’s election was Mr Goff, who decided to step down from the Party’s leadership. From his point of view, it was a decision taken at the right time, owning responsibility for his Party’s debacle at the polls.
It is possible that a successor is in place by the time you read this Leader. It is also possible that the new leader has the situation well gripped in hand and is ordering a thorough introspection of the party, its leadership, caucus and supporters.
Labour yet again has an opportunity to revisit its policies and programmes, strategies to get across to the people and revive itself over the next three years.
On the other side of the fence, the people would watch with greater interest the performance of Mr Key and his Government.
Mr Key has swept back into power, not only because people did not want a change, but also because they believed that he had delivered on many of his promises made prior to 2008 Election. His opponents would not agree of course, but to a majority of New Zealanders, tax incentives, improving law and order, tougher sentencing for convicted criminals and repeat offenders, delivery of better health services, higher standards of education and most important of all, benevolent governance are issues on which he and his party have secured a good mandate.
Mr Key knows well by now the nuances of running a successful foreign policy and setting in motion free-trade agreements with the US, India and other friendly countries. He would inevitably face a number of challenges over the next three years. As the leader of a Party that fought hard to seize power, he would have the unenviable task of keeping his colleagues under check; for some of them at least have the habit of running amok, announcing policies and programmes even before they are discussed in-house. He would also face the challenge of keeping fellow politicians with over-ambitious agenda under control.