The MMP electoral system tends to produce a large number of political parties with a chance of winning seats in Parliament. There are eight political parties with seats in Parliament, and two others with a realistic chance of winning a seat in 2014.
New Zealand National Party
New Zealand’s major centre-right political party, the National Party was founded in 1936 as a merger of the United Party and Reform Party. Those two parties (and the United Party’s predecessor the Liberal Party) had been in government continuously from the original formation of political parties in the late 19th century until the Labour Party won power in 1935.
Since then, National has formed government five times: from 1949 to 1957, from 1960 to 1972, from 1975 to 1984, from 1990 to 1999 and since 2008. The National Party has held government for a majority of the time since it was founded.
The National Party is currently led by John Key, who has been National leader since 2006 and Prime Minister since 2008. His immediate predecessor was Don Brash, a former Reserve Bank governor who entered Parliament in 2002 and served as National leader from 2003 to 2006.
The National Party’s deputy leader is Bill English. English, who is also Minister for Finance, led the party from 2001 to 2003.
The National Party won 44 out of 120 seats in the first MMP election in 1996. This dropped to 39 when the party lost power in 1999, and dropped further to a record-low 27 in 2002. The party recovered to 48 seats in 2005, and then jumped to 58 seats in 2008 and 2011 in 59.
New Zealand Labour Party
New Zealand’s major centre-left political party, the Labour Party was founded in 1916 as a merger of a number of social democratic, socialist and trade union political groupings. The party first won power in 1935, and has held power five times since then: from 1935 to 1949, from 1957 to 1960, from 1972 to 1975, from 1984 to 1990 and from 1999 to 2008.
The first Labour government held power for four terms, but no subsequent Labour government has managed the same feat. The second and third Labour governments lasted for one term each, the fourth Labour government lasted for two terms, and the most recent Labour government lasted for three terms.
The last Labour government, from 1999 to 2008, was led by Helen Clark, who had led the party since 1993. The party governed in coalition with the Alliance from 1999 to 2002, and then relied on alliances with small parties in its second and third terms.
The Labour Party is currently led by David Cunliffe, who was elected in a party-wide leadership ballot in 2013. He succeeded Phil Goff, who led the party from 2008 to 2011, and David Shearer, who replaced Goff after the 2011 election, and served in the role until early 2013.
Labour won 37 seats at the first MMP election in 1996. Labour won 49 in 1999, and a record number of 52 seats in 2002. This dropped to 50 in 2005, and in 2008 Labour dropped to 43 seats when they lost power. This dropped further to 34 seats in 2011.
Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand
The Green Party was founded in 1990. After running in the 1990 election, the party joined the Alliance in 1991, along with a number of other parties. The Green Party ran in the 1993 and 1996 elections, as part of the Alliance. In 1996, the Green Party won three seats in Parliament.
The Greens elected their first co-leaders, Jeanette Fitzsimons and Rod Donald, in 1995, and they were two of the MPs elected on the Alliance list in 1996.
In 1999, the Green Party broke away from the Alliance and ran on their own, although one of their three MPs decided to stick with the Alliance. The party won seven seats at that election.
The Green Party increased its numbers to nine in 2002, which then dropped to six in 2005 and returned to nine in 2008. The Green Party won a record number of fourteen seats at the 2011 election.
Green co-leader Rod Donald died in 2005, shortly after that year’s election. In 2006, Russell Norman was elected as male co-leader, and Norman entered Parliament in 2008.
Jeanette Fitzsimons continued as female co-leader until 2009, when she was succeeded by Metiria Turei.
New Zealand First
New Zealand First was founded shortly before the 1993 election by Winston Peters. Peters had been a National Party MP since 1984, and had served as a minister in the Bolger National government. He left the party after he was denied preselection for his seat of Tauranga. Winston Peters has led the party ever since its foundation 21 years ago.
In 1993, New Zealand First won Tauranga and a second seat. In 1996, the party won seventeen seats, including Winston Peters in Tauranga, and all five Māori electorates. The party went into coalition with the governing National Party, with Winston Peters becoming Deputy Prime Minister and Treasurer.
In 1998, Winston Peters was sacked from the ministry by Prime Minister Jenny Shipley, triggering a split in the coalition. A number of NZF members of Parliament chose to leave the party and continue to support the National-led government.
At the 1999 election, those rebel MPs ran as Mauri Pacific, but none of them were re-elected. New Zealand First held on to only five seats in Parliament, and would have been knocked out of Parliament entirely if not for Peters’ victory in Tauranga.
In 2002, New Zealand First recovered, winning thirteen seats. In 2005, Peters lost his seat of Tauranga, and the party narrowly stayed above the 5% threshold, winning seven seats. The party went into alliance with the Labour-led government after the 2005 election, with Peters taking on the position of Minister of Foreign Affairs.
In 2008, New Zealand First’s vote dropped below 5%. Because the party no longer held an electorate seat, they were not eligible to win list seats, and the party was excluded from Parliament.
The party returned to Parliament in 2011, winning 6.6% of the party vote and electing eight list MPs, including Peters.
The Māori Party was formed in 2004. The party was founded in response to the Labour government’s foreshore and seabed legislation, that asserted Crown ownership over the foreshore and seabed, rather than native title. Labour Minister for Māori Affairs, Tariana Turia, resigned from the party and the ministry over the issue. Turia became the party’s first female co-leader, with Pita Sharples becoming male co-leader. Turia resigned her seat and was re-elected at a 2004 by-election as a Māori Party candidate (with no serious opposition).
At the 2005 election, Turia, Sharples and two others were elected in Māori electorates. The Labour Party only held on to three of the seven Māori seats.
At the 2008 election, the Māori Party won a fifth seat in Te Tai Tonga. After the 2008 election, the party went into alliance with the National Party, and Turia and Sharples took on ministerial roles in the new government.
Māori Party MP Hone Harawira was suspended from the party in early 2011, and later resigned. Harawira founded the Mana Party as a left-wing rival to the Māori Party.
At the 2011 election, the Māori Party lost Te Tai Tonga to Labour, and failed to regain Harawira’s seat of Te Tai Tokerau. The Māori Party, now with three MPs, continued its governing alliance with National.
In 2012, Tariana Turia announced her intention to step down as the party’s female co-leader. While Turia is not running for re-election, she is yet to be replaced in her leadership role. In 2013, Sharples resigned as male co-leader and was succeeded by Te Ururoa Flavell. Sharples is likewise stepping down at the 2014 election.
The Mana Party was formed in 2011, after its founded Hone Harawira left the Māori Party. Harawira had been elected as the Māori Party candidate in the northern Māori electorate of Te Tai Tokerau at the 2005 and 2008 elections.
In 2011, Harawira resigned from Parliament early and was re-elected as a Mana Party MP at a by-election where he faced no serious opposition. He was then re-elected at the 2011 general election.
The party has taken a more left-wing position than the Māori Party, and in particular is strongly opposed to the National-led government.
In 2014, the party formed an alliance with the Internet Party. The alliance will see both parties run a joint list. If Harawira is re-elected in Te Tai Tokerau, both Mana and Internet Party candidates on the parties’ joint list will be eligible to win seats.
ACT New Zealand
ACT New Zealand was originally founded as the “Association of Consumers and Taxpayers”, a group formed in 1993. The political party ACT was formed in 1994.
The party was primarily founded by former Labour Finance Minister Roger Douglas. Douglas had been a senior minister in the Labour government from 1984 to 1988, and was seen as primarily responsible for the government’s neoliberal reform agenda. Douglas had retired as a Labour MP in 1990. He was joined as a founded by Derek Quigley, who had been a strongly pro-free market National MP in the 1970s and early 1980s.
Before the 1996 election, Douglas was replaced as leader by Richard Prebble, who was another formed Labour minister from the 1980s who had been active in pushing a neoliberal economic agenda. Prebble had lost his seat as a Labour MP at the 1993 election.
ACT New Zealand won eight MPs at the 1996 election, which included Prebble winning the seat of Wellington Central.
In 1999, ACT increased its representation to nine seats, and maintained those nine seats in 2002.
In 2004, Richard Prebble stood down as ACT leader and was replaced by Rodney Hide. At the time the party was polling far below the 5% threshold. Unless the party increased its vote above 5% or won an electorate seat, they would be eliminated from Parliament at the 2005 election. At the time, the National Party was led by the strongly pro-free market Don Brash, who was identified with the ACT policy agenda.
The party focused on winning the electorate of Epsom in the inner eastern suburbs of Auckland. Hide won the race, but the party’s vote dropped so far that the party only won one list seat, losing seven of their seats.
In 2008, Hide was re-elected in Epsom with the tacit support of the National Party, and the party won a total of five seats. Amongst their MPs was Roger Douglas, who returned to Parliament eighteen years after leaving.
In early 2011, Hide was replaced as ACT party leader by Don Brash, who had lost the National party leadership in 2006 and then left Parliament.
At the 2011 election, former Auckland mayor John Banks ran as the ACT candidate for Epsom, and Brash led the party’s list. Banks won Epsom, but the ACT vote dropped so low that they did not qualify for any additional list seats. Brash, thus having failed to win a seat for himself in Parliament, was replaced as ACT leader by John Banks.
In early 2014, Banks was succeeded as leader by Jamie Whyte. Banks was convicted in 2014 of filing a false electoral return during his 2010 election campaign for Mayor of Auckland, and then resigned from Parliament.
United Future New Zealand
United Future was founded in 2000, as a merger of two other parties: United New Zealand and Future New Zealand. United New Zealand was founded in 1995 by seven MPs who had left the two major parties: four National MPs, and three Labour MPs. One of these MPs was Peter Dunne, who had left the Labour Party in 1994 and founded his own party, coincidentally also named Future New Zealand.
At the 1996 election, six of the seven MPs lost their seats, and only Dunne was re-elected in his electorate in the northern suburbs of Wellington, then named Ohariu-Belmont. The party did not win enough party votes to win any list seats.
Dunne was again elected as the only United MP in 1999.
In 2000, United merged with Future New Zealand, a Christian conservative party, with the new name of United Future.
At the 2002 election, United Future did very well, winning 6.7% of the party vote and eight seats, including Dunne’s seat of Ohariu-Belmont. The party gave support to the Labour-led government, without taking on a ministerial role.
In 2005, United Future’s vote dropped so far that the party only won three seats, including Dunne in Ohariu-Belmont. After the election, Dunne took on a ministerial role in the Labour-led government.
In 2008, United Future’s vote dropped further, and Dunne was the only MP elected to represent the party. After the election, Dunne formed an alliance with the National Party, and continued as a minister in the National-led government. Dunne was re-elected as a sole MP in 2011.
Conservative Party of New Zealand
The Conservative Party was founded in 2011, and has been led by Colin Craig since its foundation.
The party polled 2.7% of the party vote in 2011, and did not win any seats.
In 2014, Craig is running in the northern Auckland seat of East Coast Bays, and is hoping to win the seat to qualify the Conservative Party for list seats.
The Internet Party was founded in 2014 by Kim Dotcom. Dotcom, a German national living in New Zealand, made his fortune running the Megaupload website. Dotcom is not able to stand for the New Zealand Parliament.
In May 2014, the party announced an alliance with Hone Harawira’s Mana Party. The two parties will run a joint list, with each party running candidates in some electorates. If Harawira holds on in Te Tai Tokerau, candidates on the joint party list will be eligible to win list seats in Parliament.
Shortly after announcing the alliance, Dotcom announced that the first leader of the Internet Party was to be Laila Harré. Harré was previously an Alliance MP from 1996 to 2002, and served as a minister in the Labour-Alliance government from 1999 to 2002.