New Zealand goes to the polls on November 8 to elect its national Parliament. New Zealand uses the Mixed Member Proportional system (which is best explained by Deborah at Larvatus Prodeo) which means that, in addition to 63 general electorates, and 7 Maori electorates, 50 list MPs are elected to “top up” parties who win less electorates than their share of the vote warrants. Parties must poll over 5% or win one electorate seat to be allocated list seats, and if a party wins more electorates than their share of the vote warrants, an “overhang” is created.
The 2005 election saw the opposition National Party recover from its 2002 collapse, winning 48 seats to the Labour Party’s 50. The Greens lost three seats, falling to 6, while New Zealand First lost 6 seats, falling to 7. NZF leader Winston Peters lost his electorate seat of Tauranga, but NZF managed to stay above the 5% threshold. The libertarian ACT Party (founded by former Labour Finance Minister Roger Douglas) plummeted in the polls, and looked like losing all nine of its seats without an electorate seat, but a focused campaign by ACT leader Rodney Hide in the Auckland seat of Epsom saw him win the seat and bring one fellow list MP into Parliament with him. The Maori Party, founded with the resignation of Labour minister Tariana Turia, won four of the seven Maori seats of the Labour Party. United Future New Zealand fell from 8 seats to 5, while one of the two remaining Progressive MPs was defeated.
Labour formed a government with Progressive MP Jim Anderton, New Zealand First and United Future, with Winston Peters becoming Foreign Minister and UF leader Peter Dunne also taking a ministry. They also gained agreement from the Greens to abstain on matters of confidence and supply, guaranteeing the government a majority.
This campaign has seen an interesting development in New Zealand’s party system. Out of the six minor parties, four of them are committed to supporting one particular major party following the election. Jim Anderton, as the sole Progressive MP, has effectively become a bonus Labour MP, with his party having little chance of winning a second seat in the list seats. Indeed, Progressive’s party vote has collapsed so far that they may qualify for zero seats, meaning that Jim Anderton himself would fill an overhang. New Zealand First has been buffetted by crises and scandals, and National leader John Key has ruled out cooperating with the party. The Greens have announced that they will work with Labour after the election, after producing a policy checklist and then evaluating Labour and National against the criteria. On the other hand, ACT clearly are seen to favour National.
National has dominated polling for most of the year, regularly breaking 50%, raising the spectre of a National majority government. Yet Labour’s advantage lies with its better relationship with minor parties. Out of the six minor parties in Parliament, only ACT and the Maori Party have not played a part in supporting the Labour government in the last three years. Polls suggest that the Maori Party is on track to win 6 or even 7 of the Maori seats, even though their party vote will only warrant electing 3 or 4 Maori Party MPs, meaning that an overhang will be created, increasing the number of seats needed for a majority. The Green Party has also been polling strongly, suggesting an increase in Green MPs after the election. ACT have hovered around their 2005 levels, although they hold out high hopes of winning a third seat for the returning Roger Douglas. United Future appears to be on track to only win one seat. New Zealand First appears on track for defeat, with the party struggling to poll above 3%. Without the seat of Tauranga, which appears on track to stay with the Nationals, the party will lose all of its 7 seats.
So what are the implications for post-election talks? The polling average website Curiablog currently predicts National winning 60 seats to Labour’s 45, with Greens winning 9, Maori Party 6, ACT 2, Progressive and United Future 1 each and NZF being eliminated. In this situation, National could form a government with the support of ACT and United Future. But if National’s vote falls any further, they will have to rely on the Maori Party in the balance of power. The Maori Party represents a strongly left-wing constituency, which has previously tended towards Labour. Polls suggest their supporters want the Maori Party to go with the Labour Party. The Maori Party also has a strong relationship with the Greens, who have committed to support Labour. Yet despite the indications that the Maori Party would be a natural fit with Labour, the party appears to be straining to find an excuse to work with National, with co-leader Tariana Turia appearing to favour a National government while her fellow co-leader Pita Sharples favours Labour. Yet it hasn’t been easy. National remains committed to the abolition of the Maori seats in 2013, while the Maori Party wants the seats entrenched, which would require a referendum of Maori voters to abolish them. Racial gaffes by National politicians such as Shadow Immigration Minister Lockwood Smith have also harmed the chances of National forming a government with Labour the Maori Party.
The trends lean towards the Maori Party holding the balance of power. While they may wish to support a stronger National/ACT government, they may well be forced to choose a Labour/Green government instead.