You might not have realised it, but on Saturday night New Zealand went to the polls to elect a new Parliament for 2014-2017. After what was described as one the most extraordinary campaigns in New Zealand’s history it was expected to be go down to the wire. It was expected to be a tight between the governing National Party going for a third term in government on the centre-right, with its support partners of ACT, United Future and the Maori Party and on the other hand the centre-left pairing of Labour and the Greens with perhaps the new Internet/Mana Party and the mercurial Winston Peter’s NZ First Party. According to New Zealand’s proportional voting system, coalition deals are necessary to form a government as it is very hard to secure a majority of votes and therefore seats in the House of Representatives. In the end, it was thought that there would be a kingmaker role, not for the Earl of Warwick, but for Winston Peters who could perhaps work with either the centre-left or centre-right bloc, depending on who would give him the better deal.
Sound complicated? Well, it could have been and New Zealand could perhaps have been left wondering who was going to lead the country for some weeks as deals were made and broken behind closed doors. But as it turned out, the New Zealand voters delivered an old fashioned, First-Past-the-Post style victory to the governing National Party: an absolute majority. (See the reaction here, the video shows the reaction of the various leaders.)
With over two million votes counted, the provisional result is this: in a 121 seat parliament (the number is meant to be 120 but the number changes due to the vagaries of the electoral system) National has won 61 seats with 48.06% of the vote. Labour has 32 seats, the Green Party 13, NZ First 11, the Maori Party 2, and ACT and United Future with one seat apiece. (The full preliminary results are here.) I say preliminary because there are still around 300,000 special votes to be counted (people living overseas, casting votes outside their electorate etc). So the final result won’t be available until the beginning of October, but there is no doubting the unprecedented nature of National’s achievement. It is the first party in New Zealand to win an absolute majority in parliament since the proportional voting system was introduced in 1996. Right-wing blogger and pollster, David Farrar, provides further results. They include:
- National first government to increase its vote and seats in three consecutive elections since the Liberal Party did the same in 1902, 1905 and 1908
- Worst result for Labour since 1922 when they got 23.7%
- Best result for National since 1951 when they got 54.0%
- Highest result for any party under MMP (in fact since 1972)
- First ever absolute majority under MMP (may change on specials)
- Best result ever for a third term Government
- The three highest party votes under MMP were National in 2014, 2011 and 2008, then Labour in 2002 (41.3%)
In terms of the demographic breakdown:
- National beat Labour by 23.4% nationwide, 22.7% in Auckland, 13.7% in Wellington, 24.9% in Christchurch, 25.0% in provincial NZ and 40.9% in rural NZ
The simple message sent by New Zealand on Saturday is that we are not yet ready for a change in government. And quite frankly, I’m not surprised. The economy is doing very well overall (New Zealand is one of the fastest growing economies in the OECD). The rebuild of Christchurch is proceeding apace and generally the mood of the country was “steady as she goes”. Furthermore, the popularity of the National Party leader, John Key, cannot be understated. He is able to connect with voters in a way I have not seen before in this country. He is seen as upfront, honest, down-to-Earth (despite being worth around $50million through currency trading!) and approachable by the majority of New Zealanders. (Probably for that reason there are some on the left of politics who cannot stand him.)
While all that explains the National party being returned, why was it returned with an increased vote and indeed with an absolute majority? I think the answer is that a lot of ‘soft’ National supporters were galvanised in the last few days of the campaign to make sure they got out and vote due to a couple of things: first they were worried about the prospect of an unstable centre-left government probably needing to include Labour/the Green Party/NZ First/the Maori Party/Internet/Mana. With Labour polling so low, it was hard to see any other way that it could form a government. The thought of so many smaller parties having a say scared a lot of people.
But more importantly I think a lot of people were turned off by the “Moment of Truth” on the Monday night before the election. This was designed by Kim Dotcom, a New Zealand resident of German origin who is facing extradition charges for copyright infringements and already has a string of prosecutions in Germany. He is an internet multi-millionaire and he hates John Key for what he sees as Key’s part in his extradition proceedings. Anyway, Dotcom set up and funded a new party, the Internet Party, and then joined forces with an existing party, the Mana movement which had a sitting Member of Parliament. He then insisted for months that he had evidence that would bring the government and in particular John Key down. On last Monday night’s “Moment of Truth” he failed to do so. Instead he brought over Glenn Greenwald and beamed in Julian Assange and Edward Snowden. They talked about NZ’s involvement with the “Five Eyes” international security arrangement and mass survelliance of New Zealanders by the NZ Government. The fact that they presented no evidence to back up their assertions made it a bit of he-said, she-said. John Key firmly denied this and people took sides between him and the Dotcom ring-ins. The fact that Key was so liked and trusted by so many helped him weather this and many felt that the Moment of Truth was a bomb, rather than a bombshell. This galvanised many who were thinking of voting National to get out and do so and this resulted, I think, in the absolute majority for the party. (Interestingly, the Internet/Mana party amalgamation lost its sitting MP in the election result and only polled 1.2% of the vote, meaning that it has no MPs in the new parliament.) So New Zealand will be plotting the basic same course over the next three years, and we can get back to talking about important things, like the rugby.