2017 New Zealand Election Explained: New Zealand has just completed a general election.

What first appeared to be yet another dominant performance by the incumbent National Party became the tightest race in New Zealand’s history.

Three parties would have leadership changes during the campaign, polling would give the left leaning Labour party both despair and hope, while the each minor party would face the prospects of failing to enter parliament or taking the position of kingmaker.

So now, with the campaign over, and preliminary results in, how did this election play out?

To understand this election we will cover four topics, the New Zealand electoral system, the parties and their leaders, the campaign’s events, and finally, the results.

There are time stamps in the description to help you skip forward, or backwards, if you want to.

Let’s begin by setting the stage: the system that this election will play out within.

New Zealand uses a unicameral parliamentary system.

As a parliamentary system, the executive branch of government, including the Prime Minister, is indirectly elected by a majority in the New Zealand House of Representatives.

So New Zealanders get their democratic say by electing this parliament.

2017 New Zealand Election Explained

The Members of Parliament are elected through Mixed Member Proportional.

Voters cast two votes.

With their electorate vote Kiwis vote for a person, usually a member of a party, to represent their electorate, New Zealand
equivalent to the American District or UK Constituency, under a First Past the Post voting system.

The nation is divided into 71 electorates and currently, seven of these are special Māori seats in which only people of Māori decent are eligible to register.

With their party vote Kiwis vote for a political party.

This vote determines the proportional makeup of Parliament, so, for example, if a party gets 30% of the Party vote they are entitled to 30% of the seats in Parliament.

These are first filled by party members who won their electorate contest and then following an ordered list presented by the party before the election.

If a party wins more electorate seats than it would be entitled to based on the party vote – this causes overhang seats where their
extra seats add to the total seats in parliament.

A party must pass the threshold to qualify for entry into parliament, this is either by winning an electorate seat or gaining 5%
of the party vote.

So even though most electorates don’t affect the overall makeup of parliament, a few are crucial as they provide a means for parties under the 5% threshold to qualify.

So now we have the stage, we need the actors: The parties of New Zealand Politics.

The two major parties are the National Party and the Labour Party.

National convincingly won the previous election in 2014 giving them their third consecutive term in government under Prime Minister John Key.

They are a conservative center-right party and will campaign on the platform of continuing their safe stewardship of the economy.

Two years into the three year term Key made a shock announcement of his decision to step down.

Almost a year out from the next election, National had a commanding lead in the polls over their main rival the Labour Party.

In the last poll before Key’s announcement, National came away with 49 and a half percent support to Labour’s 23 percent.

A week later, Key’s deputy, Bill English became the 39th Prime Minister of New Zealand.

English is a less charismatic leader than his predecessor, but the leader of the opposition and Labours leader Andrew Little appeared to pose little treat, even boring Bill could handle campaigning against him.

However, the social democratic, center-left Labour party would change their leader, more about that later, and get some wind in their sales campaigning on issues where the incumbents had failed to act, such as the housing crisis, social inequality, and the environment.

Under MMP however, the major parties are almost certain to need the support of minor parties to form a government.

So who are these minor players?

New Zealand First is a populist party positioned at the center of the political spectrum.

The 2014 election returned New Zealand First to the opposition in parliament.

Their leader, founder, and in many ways the only man who matters in the party is Winston Peters his main platform is on limiting immigration and increasing benefits for retired New Zealanders.

The Green Party is New Zealand’s environmentalist left-wing party, and a natural ally for Labour.

Their caucus sat in opposition after to 2014 election lead co-leaders Metiria Turei and James Shaw, although the former of those will be former leaders come election day.

Naturally, the Greens focus on environmental issues, climate change, and New Zealand’s polluted rivers, but they also are expanding their policies into issues around inequality.

The Māori Party is an indigenous rights party positioned on the center-left of politics, however, they have worked with the National to form a center-right government.

Like the Greens, they are led by two co-leaders, Marama Fox and Te Ururoa Flavell.

It’s unlikely that their party support will reach the 5% threshold, so they will be reliant on will one or more of the Māori seats
on a platform focused on Māori issues, such as water rights, Te Reo Māori language education and tackling child poverty.

ACT is a classical-liberal right wing party and traditional ally of National.

In the 2014 election they won a single seat,that of David Seymour who, as their only MP became leader.

Their party vote support means ACT is reliant on winning an electorate to return to parliament.

To that end a deal with National is arranged, where, with a wink and a nudge, National voters in Epsom will be asked to give their electorate vote to Seymour to keep the support party in the house.

Acts policies stand for free-market solutions to education and environmental issues.

United Future is a centralist party, led by their founder, and sole MP, Peter Dunne, until his resignation during this campaign.

As with ACT, Dunn entered parliament, and government, with an electorate deal with National.

However, due to an even lower party vote performance this seat became an overhang seat lifting the number of members to 121.

Historically, United Future’s platform centers on drug reform and common-sense ideas.

Now we have the stage and the actors, it’s time for the action: On the 16th of July 2017, Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei admitted to benefit fraud by not disclosing that she was accepting rent from flatmates while collecting a benefit in early 1990, she was announcing the Green Policy to increase benefits while highlighting the difficulties New Zealand’s poorest face with her story.

The Greens saw a surge in support in subsequent polling reaching 15%.

But this support came at the expense of their ally Labour who saw support plummet to just 24% Speculation mounted around whether Little would continue after consecutive disastrous polls.

Little admitted to considering stepping down but shadow cabinet members assured the media that Little had the support of his caucus.

But this admission only weakened Littles position and he fell on his sword on the first of August.

Shortly after Jacinda Ardern was confirmed as Labours’ new leader, with Littles’ support, so close to an election Labour could
not afford a bloody political coup and Ardern emerged as their new leader spotless.

Meanwhile in the Green Camp Turei was coming under fire.

It was becoming apparent that she had not entirely told the whole truth with regards to her benefit fraud.

The flatmate she had spoken about as it turned out was her mother and her family when contacted by the media disputed her claims that this was her only way of receiving support.

Perhaps worse for a politician, was that she registered a false address to vote for a friend.

The controversy leads to two Green MPs withdrawing from the party list.

While Little had swiftly and cleanly stepped down as leader of Labour, Turei was holding onto power in the Greens, but eventually, her tenure became untenable and she resigned leaving her co-leader, James Shaw, as the Greens sole leader for the remainder of the campaign.

Her benefit fraud admission had turned out to trigger the downfall of both her and Little.

Ardern, however, was popular, likable, relentlessly positive, and loved by the media.

In the weeks after she became Labours leader the media, and therefore the nation, was captured by Jacindamania.

National was old news, and, for now, old news was no news.

In the polls, Labour first recouped their losses to the now disintegrating Greens, who dipped below the 5% threshold needed to enter parliament; and then begun to chip away at Nationals seemingly insurmountable lead.

Meanwhile, in the Wellington electorate of Ōhāriu, incumbent United Future Leader Peter Dunne was aiming for re-election; and he needed to win his seat to enter parliament with his party’s support hovering around the 0.1% mark.

So a deal had been again struck between United Future and National where National voters would be told to give their electorate vote to Dunne to keep the support party in the house.

However, Labour candidate Greg O’Connor appeared to be winning; and seeing the writing on the wall Dunne resigned as leader and pulled out of the race; effectively signalling the end of United Future, but opening up the contest between Labour and National in the electorate.

Now jumping forward to the 27th of August when a leak revealed that New Zealand First leader Winston Peters had been overpaid in his superannuation payments for years.

Upon being advised of his over payment Peters had immediately repaid what was owed,with interest.

But, the question of where this leak came from was asked.

It became apparent that government ministers had been briefed on the event earlier and accusations were fielded at National for breaching Peters privacy.

Both New Zealand First and National lost support over the controversy and the poll released immediately prior to the first leaders debate between Ardern and English had Labour on top, but only by a slim margin, 43% to 41%.

With a month on the job, Ardern had turned around the fortunes of Labour.

National must have been worried, and it seemed they were.

Their minister of finance Steven Joyce accused Labour of an $11.7 billion hole in their budget.

Economists disagreed, it was a tight budget but the sums added up.

National’s leaders continued to raise the accusation anyway, hoping, presumably, that their party’s status as the safe pair of
economic hands to Labours reckless spending reputation would let some of the mud stick.

Did this do more to damage their own brand than their opponents?

While one poll saw yet another boost for Labour, another poll from the same period indicated National could govern alone with the Greens not recovering from their earlier drops.

In the final two weeks on the campaign trail, National continued to attack Labour on taxes, they didn’t have a solid policy on what
new taxes under Labour would be, instead promising to refer to a committee after the election to make an informed decision, exactly what National had done when increasing GST, the equivalent to VAT in New Zealand.

But voters don’t like uncertainty or taxes and the issue was beginning to hurt Labour was forced to back down and promised to seek a new mandate in the next election before implementing new taxation.

Leading into election day, the polls were too close to call, with New Zealand First, appearing to be holding on to the kingmaker
position, but also teetering on the brink of the threshold for entry into parliament the nation could go either way.

So with that, I pass on to future Soliloquy for the election night results.

New Zealand has voted, and election night results are in.

The major parties dominated the electorates, with Labour pulling off a clean sweep of the Maori seats, their tactic of not placing their Maori seat candidates on the party list paid off against a Maori party with baggage from three years of working within a centre right government.

The only electorate to be taken by a minor party was Epsom, with Acts deal with National paying off and ensuring Seymour will return to parliament.

In Northland, New Zealand First leader Winston Peters lost his electorate to Nationals Matt King.

That will be a little humiliating but where it matters is the party vote and New Zealand First comfortably passed the threshold with 7.5% support.

National took 46% of the party vote to Labours 35.8%, and the Greens were the only other party to pass the threshold with 5.9%.

Translated to seats in the house: National receives 58, two less than last time, but better than most polls expected.

Labour 45, an increase of 13 MPs New Zealand First 9, down 3, The Greens 7, halving their caucus, and ACT gained enough support to prevent Seymour’s seat from becoming an overhang.

With United Future and the Maori Party out of parliament, the previous government no longer has the numbers to govern.

Placing Winston Peters in the kingmaker position.

A National and New Zealand First coalition has the numbers to govern most easily, but Labour, the Greens, and New Zealand First
can form a slim majority.

Labour and the Greens held out the olive branch to Peters, but with such a small margin it will be difficult for Labour to balance the
interests of New Zealand First and the Greens in such an arrangement.

So by far, the more likely outcome on these numbers seems to be New Zealand First working with National to give them their fourth term in government.

But it’s not all bad news for the left.

Jacinda Ardern has increased the Labours caucus, delivered a stunning blow to the Maori Party, and proved her metal on the campaign trail.

With three years of leadership experience, and Peters likely to retire, the 2020 New Zealand election will be a different beast altogether.

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