Dr Muriel Newman
Whangarei, September 30, 2017
The election is over and voters have had their say. Now the MMP horse-trading begins.
Elected MPs are the ones who will chose our new Prime Minister and deliver an administration that can command the 61 vote majority in the House that is necessary to govern New Zealand.
Let us firstly look at what the election delivered.
According to the Electoral Commission, turnout was up with 78.8% of enrolled voters voting, compared to 77.9% in 2014 and 74.21% in 2011.
The 2,169,802 ordinary votes that were counted on election night, gave the following provisional results: National 46% (58 seats), Labour 35.8% (45 seats), New Zealand First 7.5% (9 seats), Greens 5.9% (7 seats) and ACT 0.5% (! Seat).
In the last Parliament, National had 59 seats, Labour 32 seats, the Greens 14 seats, New Zealand First 11 seats, the Maori Party 2 seats, ACT one seat and United Future one seat.
Early voting has proved increasingly popular with 1,240,740 New Zealanders – more than half of all voters – having their say before Election Day, compared with 717,579 in 2014 and 334,558 in 2011. This can be attributed not only to the increased interest in this election, but also to the convenience of doubling the number of early voting booths – including at some supermarkets.
Increased Special Votes
The number of special votes also increased to record numbers, with 384,072 – 15% of voters – casting their votes from outside their own electorate (including 61,375 from overseas), enrolling after the printed electoral roll was closed, using the Electoral Commission’s telephone dictation service for blind and disabled voters, or being registered on the unpublished electoral roll.
Since special votes typically favour left-aligned parties, National is expected to lose up to two seats with Labour and the Greens gaining one each. The results should be available on October 7, 2017, with the final official election results confirmed on October 12, 2017.
Options with Kingmaker
As expected, the election has delivered New Zealand First as the ‘Kingmaker.’ That Party now has three main options. It can work with National as a two-party coalition with a four to six seat majority. It can work with Labour and the Greens as a three-party coalition, with a majority of one to three seats. Or it can guarantee confidence and supply to either National or Labour and the Greens, and then sit on the cross benches, negotiating one bill at a time.
If none of those options eventuate, another possibility is for National to work with the Greens, either in a two-party coalition or as a minority Government with an agreement on confidence and supply – although neither party seems keen on working with the other.
In the unlikely event of no agreement being able to be reached on a governing majority, a new election would need to be held.
Winston Peters has said that he is considering his options and will make a decision “in the national interest” by October 12, once the official results are confirmed. Until then, we can be assured of a never-ending stream of speculation!
So, what factors had the greatest influence on the outcome of the election? The answer to that question has to be the Greens – and the media.
The Green Party, with the assistance of the media, was instrumental in setting the agenda for the election.
They relentlessly claimed there was a ‘mood for change,’ in spite of the fact that there was no such mood. That was revealed in a Listener poll just before the election, when 84% of New Zealanders said they thought that the country is doing incredibly well for a small nation at the bottom of the world, and 76% believed that there was no better place to live.
With support for National dropping just 1% from the previous election, most people were clearly not ready to toss out the Party that had guided the country through two earthquakes, a global financial crisis, and some difficult commodity slumps.
The Greens also exaggerated the state of our waterways, creating the impression that all are heavily polluted and that farmers are to blame, when the country’s most serious problems are caused by inadequate council sewerage and storm water systems.
In spite of New Zealand using only 2% of its abundant fresh water resource, the Greens, along with Labour, focused on denigrating the country’s 20 or so water bottling companies, manipulating public opinion into support for a punitive tax on water – even though such a tax would lead to a massive Treaty of Waitangi claim.
But it was the Greens attempt to poach Labour voters that created the biggest disruption to the election campaign, triggering a chain reaction that wiped out their co-leader, the Labour leader, seven Green MPs, and two of the smaller parties in Parliament.
The Green Party’s ‘own goal’ was set in motion through actions that were contrary to the spirit of the Memorandum of Understanding they had signed with the Labour Party. But with Labour slumping in the polls under Andrew Little’s leadership, the Greens hatched a plan to target their social justice supporters through a rip-roaring speech on welfare reform, during which Metiria Turei would admit benefit fraud.
Their strategy was too successful for their own good. Their support sky-rocketed and Labour’s collapsed, forcing the Labour Party into a leadership change just seven weeks out from the election. With Labour’s electoral college leadership selection process – which gives party and Caucus members 40% each of the votes and the affiliated trade unions 20%, suspended within three months of an election, the Caucus was free to choose their popular Deputy Jacinda Ardern as their new leader.
Rise of Jacindamania
It was a move that sparked a literal media ‘love-fest’. ‘Jacindamania’ hoovered up latent Labour supporters from within the Greens and New Zealand First – more than halving their poll ratings from what they had been under Andrew Little. Even National lost some support as centre voters swung to the left.
The new look of Labour energised candidates fighting in the electorates, causing Peter Dunne to throw in the towel as United Future leader, and the Maori Party to lose its electorate seat.
It is indeed ironic that the Green Party, which has so assiduously promoted a radical Maori sovereignty agenda, was responsible for the collapse of the two Maori sovereignty parties – the Maori Party and Hone Harawera’s Mana Party.
Perhaps, in a wider sense, this signals that separatist radicalism is no longer wanted by most Maori voters – that indeed they want to be a part of New Zealand, not separate from New Zealand.
There are, in fact, 29 MPs in the new Parliament who have disclosed Maori ancestry – almost a quarter of Parliament. Maori make up only 14% of the New Zealand population, but they now have 24% representation in Parliament.
The Media Play
Labour’s startling rise in the polls, was largely driven by the media. The extraordinarily positive publicity they gave to Labour’s new leader day after day would have dramatically elevated the profile of any party. In fact, it was not days, but weeks before adulation finally gave way to the proper scrutiny of election promises as a focus of news. It was only then that the election battle could really begin.
As could be expected, tax dominated the campaign as the single biggest differentiator of the approach of the two major parties: Labour wanted to cancel the tax cuts and introduce a raft of new taxes to fund their spending programme, while National wanted to reduce taxes and fund their election promises through prudent fiscal management.
Labour again ignored the sage advice of their former leader David Lange, that a Capital Gains Tax is a tax you introduce if you want to lose not one election, but the next three elections.
Taxes, Taxes and Taxes
With Labour having already lost the previous two elections in which they strongly promoted a Capital Gains Tax, it remains to be seen whether the words of the former Prime Minister will prove to be prophetic and they will lose this third election as well.
With the public now rejecting a Capital Gains Tax at three general elections – it is hoped that Labour will finally learn to listen to the voice of the people.
There is much water to go under the bridge before our new government is announced, but in spite of all the ups and downs, we should not lose sight of the importance of elections and the value of democracy. When we vote, each and every one of us is making a difference. It is now up to those that we have elected into office to do the right thing and deliver us a new government that is capable of running the country well, as we face the uncertainties of the global future that lies ahead.
Dr Muriel Newman is Director of the New Zealand Centre for Political Research, a web-based free weekly Newsletter, NZCPR Weekly. The above article is an edited version that appeared in her weekly edition dated September 30, 2017 and has been reproduced here with her permission. For full text, please visit http://www.nzcpr.com/