New Zealanders are going to the polls this Saturday to hold their general election. The conservative National Party government will be seeking a second term after defeating the Labour Party in 2008.
New Zealand elects its Parliament using the Mixed Member Proportional system. Under this system, 69 seats in the Parliament are filled representing specific districts, with the winner elected by First Past the Post. 62 of these seats are ‘general’ electorates. The other seven are Maori seats, with Maori voters given a choice of whether to be on the general roll or the Maori roll.
A further 51 are elected to ensure that the overall balance in the Parliament is proportional to the national party vote. This means that small parties tend to get a larger proportion of the list seats, as they tend to be unrepresented or underrepresented in the single-member electorates. To win list seats, a party needs to win at least one electorate seat or win 5% of the national party vote.
This system has existed since 1996, and in that time has ensured that no party was able to form a majority government on its own.
The Labour government after the 2005 election governed with the support of the centre-left Progressive Party, the centrist United Future party and right-wing populist New Zealand First. Also in Parliament was the right-wing small-government ACT, the Maori Party, the Green Party, and the National Party opposition.
In 2008, the Nationals, Maori Party, Green Party and ACT all gained ground. Labour lost seats, while United Future’s Peter Dunne failed to bring in any party colleagues. New Zealand First was eliminated from Parliament completely, as their vote fell below 5% and their party leader Winston Peters failed to regain his electorate seat that he had lost in 2005.
A new government was formed by National with support arrangements with ACT, the Maori Party and Peter Dunne, effectively an independent as the sole United Future MP.
The last three years have been a solid term for John Key’s National Party, despite severe earthquakes in Christchurch and economic troubles. The Nationals have been polling over 50% in most polls since early 2009, which would allow the party to form a majority government without any other parties if reflected at an election.
Labour has been suffering the typical problems expected of a new opposition learning to deal with the difficulties of being out of office. Labour leader Phil Goff has largely failed to capture the country’s imagination or dent the position of the new government.
The Green Party have cemented their place as the third party in New Zealand politics, and are consistently polling at levels now that would give them an increase in seats above their nine current seats, with some polls giving them around 12-13% of the vote.
ACT New Zealand have had a tumultuous year. In early 2011, ACT leader Rodney Hide was replaced in a party coup by former National Party leader Don Brash. Brash then proceeded to take over the party machine and find new candidates for key positions. All five sitting ACT MPs will retire at the election.
ACT hasn’t been polling close to the 5% threshold all term, so the party will need to retain Hide’s Auckland seat of Epsom to stay in Parliament. To contest the seat, Brash recruited former Auckland mayor and National minister John Banks. Last week Banks and Key were caught in a scandal when they were secretly recorded during a meeting in a cafe. ACT polled 3.7% in 2008, but haven’t polled above 2% in months. Assuming Banks can win Epsom, he will probably only bring in one or two more ACT MPs.
The Maori Party has also suffered division since 2008. The party first won four of the seven Maori seats in 2005, before gaining a fifth in 2008.
Maori Party MP Hone Harawira resigned from the party earlier this year to form a new Mana Party, which is positioned to the left of the Maori Party, particularly critical of the party’s relationship with the conservative government. He resigned from Parliament and retained his seat at a by-election. Polls suggest he is likely to win again. The Maori Party will be competing in three-way races with the Mana Party and the Labour Party across the seven Maori seats, with the result hard to predict.
Overall the election looks set to produce a majority government in a system to prevent such an outcome. I wrote much more about the New Zealand election in a much closer race in 2008, and you can read about them in the archives.
I plan to blog more over the course of this week, including about the electoral system referendum that will also be held on Saturday.