Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Season of change

This year’s New Zealand election season has been unlike any other, certainly for the past two decades, perhaps ever. There have been leaders lost, leaders gained, fortunes reversed, and momentum gained. The ride’s been nothing short of breathtaking.

It’s time to take a breath for a moment and to reflect. The NZ Labour Party lost a leader, then gained a new one, Jacinda Ardern, who has completely turned the party’s fortunes around. What looked like an historic defeat is now looking more like a possible victory, all with a few short weeks. In the 21+ years I’ve lived in New Zealand, I’ve never seen this sort of enthusiasm for a party leader and the party she leads, except, maybe for the last Labour-led Government under former Prime Minister Helen Clark.

The Greens, meanwhile, lost their co-leader when she was driven out in a media frenzy. People can—and do—argue about how much she was personally responsible for that, but the fact remains that she was treated more harshly than other politicians who committed arguably more serious transgressions.

Then yesterday Peter Dunne, the sole MP for the United Future Party, announced he was standing down and would not run for reelection. Colmar Brunton conducted a poll in his electorate of Ohāriu that found that the Labour Party’s candidate, Greg O’Connor, had a 14-point lead over Dunne. That was unlikely to change. Dunne was undefeated in 33 years, looked to be facing defeat, and is now quitting while he’s ahead.

Dunne’s departure is bad news for the National Party because it deprives them of a coalition partner, and makes it easier for the Labour Party to form their own coalition. The MMP electoral system used in New Zealand is designed to make sure that Parliament resembles, as closely as possible, the will of the voters. Because of that, it’s highly improbable that any single party will ever govern alone—our governments will always be coalitions. So, having viable coalition partners is important.

This brings us back to the Greens. Their support is much stronger than one poll seemed to suggest, though the media obsessed about it as if it was the only one that mattered. After that poll hit the media, Roy Morgan released a poll showing that the Greens were at 9%—twice what Colmar Brunton showed. Moreover, Stuff’s “Poll of polls”, which has a surprisingly good record of getting the results right, today has the Greens on 7.1%. All of which means that the Colmar Brunton Poll is the only one so far to show the Greens in jeopardy of being out of Parliament.

The strength of the Green Party matters a lot, because they must be in Parliament for Labour to form a centre-left coalition. If they’re not in Parliament, Labour could probably form a coalition with New Zealand First, possibly with the Māori Party, which has been supporting National in government for years. Recently, Māori Party co-leader Marama Fox signalled that they could go into coalition with Labour and the Greens, saying, "We could change the world – I think that would be amazing." NZ First’s Winston Peters always plays it coy before an election, and, like the Māori Party, he’s not committed to changing the government—only Labour and the Greens are.

There’s still four and a half weeks to the general election, and considering what we’ve seen so far, only a fool would dare to say we won’t see any other big or unexpected developments. But at the moment, based on what’s been happening over the past few weeks, a change in government looks like a distinct possiblily—just as long as people vote for change.

The deadline to register to vote to be on the general roll is tomorrow, August 23. As of last week, some 450,000 eligible New Zealanders were not enrolled to vote, more than half of them under 30, according to the NZ Electoral Commission.

No comments: