The two largest parties in New Zealand, Labour and National, are using subtly different strategies to advertise themselves ahead of the 26 November election.
All of the National signs that I have seen so far (on the South Island) show John Key, the party leader and incumbent Prime Minister. They either contain some numbered point out of the party’s policy platform (e.g. “3. Rebuild Christchurch”), or they show the electorate (district) candidate along with Key–such as this one on the road between Christchurch and Dunedin.
All of the signs for Labour district candidates that I have seen so far are like the upper one here on this corner in Christchurch. They show only the local candidate; no image of the party leader (and PM candidate), Phil Goff, is present.
Other signs have policy issues indicated, such as the lower sign in the same photo, or the following other example.
Of course, the reason for these differences is that Key is very popular–more than his party. Goff, on the other hand, is unpopular, and the party has made an explicit point that its campaign is about “issues”.
If New Zealand voters vote to keep their current MMP system in the referendum on 26 November, there will be a review of whether MMP needs “improvement”.1
One of the aspects of the current system up for review would be the threshold for earning party-list seats. Currently it is set at 5% of the party-list vote or one district (electorate) seat won. The case of the Epsom district, in Auckland, shows the strange ways that the one-district clause of the threshold can work. The quotes that follow are from TVNZ. (more…)
Some details and links on the referendum may be found by following the first link in this entry. The question of a review was discussed here previously. [↩]
The campaign for New Zealand’s referendum on the electoral system is heating up. Voters will be able to cast two votes in the referendum: one for or against keeping the current mixed-member proportional (MMP) system, and a second to select from among four options for replacement in the event a majority opts for change. If the majority says change from MMP, another referendum in three years will pit MMP against the winner of the second part of this referendum.
The NZ Herald reports that the first anti-MMP billboards are going up this week “as a group of New Zealand’s richest businessmen launch their bid to turf out proportional voting.” (more…)
With an election on 26 November (and most of the country currently distracted by rugby), the pre-electoral legislative business is offering a good window into how the parties are positioning themselves for the campaign.
The current government is led by the National Party, which won a plurality of seats in the 2008 election. It is supported by three smaller parties, the farther-right Act, the one-seat United Future (sort of centrist, sort of social-conservative), and the ethnic Maori Party.
Act is all about pushing National farther right, and it is because of that Act goal that National took on Maori as partners, even though it could have had a majority without Maori. Needing to avoid straying too far from the national (small-n) median, the National Party would not want to be overly dependent upon the fringe right.
ACT Parliamentary Leader John Boscawen today confirmed he had negotiated from the Government major changes in the Criminal Procedure (Reform and Modernisation) Bill that would mean the continued protection of rights and freedoms that New Zealanders have held dear for generations.
“I had fundamental objections to the Bill but after successful negotiations with Justice Minister Simon Power all my objections have now been addressed,” Mr Boscawen said.
It then goes on to list a series of specific concessions it claims to have won in exchange for its support.
In another, it differentiates itself from the National party over the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS). A little background is in order. This program was originally enacted late in the previous parliament, in the run-up to the 2008 election, when Labour headed a minority government. That government was backed by United Future and the New Zealand First Party of Winston Peters.1 At the time United Future would not support the ETS, and so the government worked out some concessions demanded by the Greens, who were not formal partners to the government. The Greens issued their own press release then, touting how they had improved the bill (from the standpoint of their constituents).
Then when National won, it immediately stayed the implementation of the ETS. It later negotiated changes with the Maori (who won the right to earn credits from planting trees on tribal lands). Act would not vote in favor of any changes to the ETS. They believe climate change is a hoax, and want the law scrapped. This week they reminded their supporters of this position.
ACT New Zealand Parliamentary Leader John Boscawen today called on the Government to drop the pretence and scrap the Emissions Trading Scheme altogether after the ETS Review Panel report recommended delaying the introduction of the energy, transport, industrial and agricultural sectors into the scheme.
“Today’s report confirms what ACT has been saying all along; the ETS is a disaster and should be scrapped. [...]
“The report today does a great job of highlighting the scheme’s flaws but does little to remedy them. Instead of delaying the inevitable the Government should have the courage of its convictions and do what ACT has called for all along – scrap the ETS,” Mr Boscawen said.
Meanwhile, the National Party and the Greens have been negotiating on areas of mutual interest. That they would ever work together may seem odd, as they represent opposite ends of the political space, leaving aside Act. However, multiparty politics, especially with minority government, opens up all sorts of interesting possibilities for policy progress in specific areas of overlap.
The two parties have announced a deal on a bill to regulate natural health products. The bill passed its first reading in parliament earlier today. It was a shared policy initiative agreed between these two parties under a Memorandum of Understanding. This is something far short of a formal government-support partnership, but a process that permits the Greens to pass policy of interest to their constituency even from the opposition. As for National, presumably they saw a benefit from advancing the safety and reliability of this sector of the market and could never get Act to go along.2 Greens have long looked for chances to show that they are not an appendage of Labour, able to work only with that party. Here is one concrete example.
The Greens have a press release about the natural health bill featured very prominently on the party web site as of today. National also has a press release on it, but rather less prominently. The statements are subtly different, with Greens emphasizing the “stand alone regulator” to deal with natural health products coming “more and more… from countries with a poor safety record” and the benefits to “small business” (presumably natural supplement retailers are part of their constituency). National emphasizes “public assurances about the safety and efficacy of natural health products” and concluding by noting the “three-year transitional period to assist the industry in adjusting to the proposed requirements”.
As to the Greens’ dealing with National, the main opposition party, Labour, has attacked the smaller left party as being “more Blue than Green“, as reported in the NZ Herald, 14 Sept. (Blue is National’s color.) The specific issue referenced is Green support for the government’s environmental protection plan for potential offshore oil and gas fields.3 Labour, with polls showing it having no realistic chance of forming the next government, is clearly trying to out flank the Greens and hold off further losses to the them. Polls show the Green Party may score a record high in the upcoming election.
Finally, going back to an old story, as the government was formed following the close 2005 election, I posed the question, “Did the NZ government agreement promise pork?” I concluded no, because the agreement did not promise to the United Future that the “Transmission Gully” road would be built to relieve traffic around leader Peter Dunne’s district. It only promised a review of the project. Well, according to two items on the National website this week (1, 2), the project is still under review. So not much pork for Dunne to claim credit for in this election–only that, six years later, we still have the government looking in to it!
The New Zealand campaign and legislative sessions afford an excellent laboratory to watch multiparty politics, policy-making, and party positioning in action!
A hard party, and leader, to characterize. Sometimes, based on media stories, I actually wonder if his name was not officially The Mercurial Winston Peters. The party has a constituency that is anti-immigrant and pro “law and order”, and disproportionately elderly. It did not make it back into parliament in 2008 and probably will not this time, either. [↩]
Notwithstanding that its party name originally meant the Alliance of Consumers and Taxpayers, and this is a consumer safety measure. Act has a low-tax, low-regulation ideology. [↩]
The Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf (Environmental Effects) Bill passed its second reading with support from Maori Party, Act, United Future, as well as the Greens. The Greens have not committed yet to supporting it all the way through the legislative process, depending on its final provisions. [↩]
Problems in the two main governing partners to the National Party of New Zealand PM John Key.
The right-wing ACT party has had a leadership change. The new leader is the former National Party leader, Don Brash.
The Maori Party is unhappy about the shift in ACT (largely because when Brash headed the Nats, the latter party wanted to abolish the separate Maori constituencies. Meanwhile, the Maori Party has suffered a split, and may face competition in Maori electorates.
New Zealand has a general election, as well as a referendum on the electoral system,1 on 26 November.
Which will not, however, affect the Maori seats directly. [↩]
The strategies of candidates and parties in mixed-member systems can be fascinating. Here is one current example from New Zealand, where voters will go to the polls in late November (at the same time as they vote in the first stage of a process to review or possibly replace MMP).
Christchurch East MP Lianne Dalziel will not stand on her party’s list this election, saying if the people from Christchurch do not want her to return as their electorate MP she would prefer to leave Parliament altogether.
Ms Dalziel is one of only two MPs who have spurned the safety of the party’s list for the election this November.
Her career is an interesting one, as in 1996 she was elected a list-only candidate. She says she did “not enjoy” being a list-only MP because it meant a less close connection with constituents. (NZ Herald, 8 April.)
She is an MP for Labour, and won her district (electorate) easily in 2008, with 52.9% of the vote; the closest challenger was the National Party candidate, with 35.9%. So unless there is a huge swing (unlikely, given that 2008 already saw a large swing towards National), she is not exactly putting her career on the line by giving up a list slot.
The former President and now Labour’s candidate for New Plymouth, Andrew Little, is the highest placed non-MP, at number 15.
The other non-MP with a winnable spot at number 26 is Deborah Mahuta-Coyle, a member of party leader Phil Goff’s media team.
The top 14 list places are held by senior, sitting MPs, headed by Mr Goff and his deputy, Annette King. (Radio NZ, 10 April; see the link for the full list.)
Meanwhile, Richard Long in the Dominion Post, decries the party’s list nominations as “gazumping the electoral process” and “little short of gerrymandering.”
Long wants MMM instead–which is the option on the referendum ballot referred to as “Supplementary Member.” It seems to me that if you don’t like gazumping and gerrymandering, you should like MMM a good deal less than MMP.
_____________ More on the Labour list and its “new blood,” including candidates with union backgrounds, and on repeat candidates with changed list positions at the NZ Herald, 10 April.
Rodney Hide, leader of the right-wing Act party in New Zealand, gave the adjournment speech in parliament. It is interesting as an example of a small party, which serves as a support partner for a minority government, claiming credit for policy achievements.
That’s it – another Parliamentary year over. Rodney’s adjournment speech talks about ACT’s achievements – including Three Strikes, changes to the employment laws, and fixing Auckland’s local government structure.
The video is also interesting for all the verbal sniping going on from the opposition benches, and Hide’s occasional references to it.
New Zealand’s Electoral Referendum Bill now calls for a review of the current Mixed-Member Proportional (MMP) system, if it wins a majority at the referendum next year, NZ Herald reports.
If a majority vote to change MMP, the current system would be pitted against the most popular of various alternatives that will also be on the ballot at the referendum.
Labour and the Greens have pledged to fight to have MMP reviewed regardless of the referendum result, which would mean that a referendum in 2014 would pit a potentially improved MMP – rather than the present system – against an alternative.
Of course, Labour and Greens are the opposition parties, so apparently they are going to lose that battle.
Topics of review, should MMP be retained, would include the threshold. Currently it is 5% of the party-list vote or one district win. In the last election, the New Zealand First party won 4.1% of the list votes but no seats, while the Act Party won 3.7% of the list votes and 5 seats, thanks to winning in the district of Epsom.
Also to be reviewed would be the question of whether a member who is defeated in a district race should be able to win via the party list, as is currently the case–not only in NZ, but in almost all mixed-member systems. (This is an issue we have discussed at F&V before; I argue that allowing such dual candidacy is a logically necessary feature of the system, but there are ways to make it less troublesome for those who find it to be a problem.)
I have to correct the NZ Herald a bit. It notes that one of the alternative systems to be considered is a “Supplementary Member” system, which would have a 90/30 split of members elected from the two tiers: districts with first-past-the-post and PR via party lists. “This would be less proportional than MMP, which has a 70/50 split,” the article says. Indeed, but the more fundamental reason for reduced proportionality is that the list seats would not be compensatory, as they are in MMP. The Supplementary Member is MMM, or mixed-member majoritarian (also known as a “parallel” system), which is less proportional–far less–then MMP, even for a constant ratio of plurality and PR seats.
The article also notes that there will be campaign spending limits on the referendum.
ADDENDUM: Wilf notes in a comment an important detail left out by the Herald. The review will include a consideration of open (or perhaps ‘flexible’) lists. That’s a pretty big change to result potentially from a “YES” vote on the current system!
Seven list MPs are receiving almost $41,000 each a year to run offices in their local communities but choose not to.
Although MPs are not required to have local offices, and can transfer their funds to other MPs or their parties, the Appropriations Review Committee indicated that it “would be concerned if the number of MPs not opening offices was to increase significantly”.
Also in the article is this note on where some of the funds go:
ACT list MP John Boscawen said ACT’s list MPs shared office space in Auckland. However, he had used “a huge chunk”of his entitlement on organising and publicising 40 public meetings against the emissions trading scheme over the past four months.
ACT is a supporter of the current National-led minority government, and, to put it mildly, a party of climate-change skeptics. The Emissions Trading Scheme was one of the signature laws passed by the previous Labour-led government, late in its last term, and which the new government was committed to restructuring.
If by my laws you walk, and my commands you keep, and observe them,
then I will give-forth your rains in their set-time,
so that the earth gives-forth its yield
and the trees of the field give-forth their fruit.
--Vayikra 26: 3-4