An Australian Green senator, Richard Di Natale (Victoria) has spoken of the importance of the smaller party maintaining its identity if it enters coalition. The remarks were made at the New Zealand Greens’ conference in Christchurch (NZ Herald).
Sen. Di Natale spoke of changes to the current Labor Party minority cabinet’s program that his party could claim credit for–putting a price on pollution, a new $10 billion investment in renewable energy, and free dental care for children–but also of the fear of the credit not being noted. “The key issue is knowing when not to compromise,” Dr Di Natale said. Moreover,
Maintaining your identity when there is a perception that you are part of the government is a huge challenge.
Such are the perils for small parties. However, based on polling in the run-up to this year’s Australian election, claiming credit for policy seems like the least of the Greens’ current concerns. Rather, they need to be more worried about keeping enough senators after the coming debacle for Labor to protect the few policy gains they’ve managed since 2010.
There is an interesting item about a recent poll in the New Zealand Herald. The upshot of it, as I read it, is that the New Zealand Labour party may be so concerned about being tied too closely to the Greens that they’d at least like to signal a preference for forming a coalition with Winston Peters and his New Zealand First Party. Now that’s desperate!
The story notes that Labour+NZF would be unlikely to be a majority, but they may hope they can just say to the Greens that they can either agree at least to abstain and allow a minority government to function, or be blamed for a fresh election.
Then again, maybe Labour and Greens will yet end up forging a joint program before the election, and this is all posturing. As also noted in the news item, the Greens have made no secret of wanting the Finance ministry, and Labour certainly has an interest in signaling that this would be non-negotiable.
Members from two of the coalition partners in the Israeli government have submitted bills to reform various aspects of governance.
The first, from Yisrael Beiteinu, would keep the current requirement for an absolute majority (61/120) to remove a government via a vote of no-confidence, but not allow such a motion even to be debated until signed by 61 MKs.
The second, from Yesh Atid, would require 65 votes to remove a government. (It is not clear what the minimum number of signers would be for the motion to go to the Knesset agenda.)
Both bills propose raising the electoral threshold to 4% (from 2%), and mandating a maximum size of the cabinet, including limits on deputies.
In support of the Yesh Atid bill, sponsor Ronen Hoffman says, “The adoption of the procedure means a government can only be overthrown once a realistic, serious alternative is in place.”
Actually, this could be accomplished without requiring more than 50%+1 votes. Why not a constructive vote of no-confidence, whereby a government can be removed only if a majority (61/120) of legislators votes affirmatively for an alternative prime minister (or full cabinet)?1
If forced to choose between these two options, I would actually take the Yisrael Beiteinu one. However, while raising the minimum number of sponsors of a no-confidence motion seems sensible, raising it all the way to 50%+1 is unnecessary. I do not know what the highest currently used in any parliamentary democracy is, but I think more on the order of 25%.2 Speaking of parliamentary systems, if it takes more than 50%+1 to remove a government, the system fails to meet the basic criterion of such a system: the accountability of government to parliament–the majority of parliament.
Israel adopted a weak form of constructive vote about a decade ago, but a motion must only name a candidate to be PM, not actually invest a new PM, as is the case with full constructive votes in Germany, Spain, and elsewhere. [↩]
The linked news item says that currently, “any faction” may propose a motion, which is debated. That’s too low a requirement! [↩]
Just as the clock was about to run out on PM-designate Benjamin Netanyahu’s period for forming a government, he struck deals with Yesh Atid (Yair Lapid) and Bayit Yehudi (Naftali Bennet), to go along with one struck weeks earlier with Tnuah (Tzipi Livni).
That this would most likely be the make-up of the ultimate coalition was clear almost as soon as the election results were in–or at least that is what I told our synagogue congregation in a “sermon” (yes, a political-science sermon!) shortly after the election. So I want to thank the Israeli party leaders for making me look good. Nonetheless, as is often the case with such bargaining, it went down to the wire and endured many twists and turns and seeming crises along the way. Of course, one can never be sure how many “crises” and threats are real chances for the process to break down, and how many are posturing for a better deal. I suspect most of them were the latter.
Yesh Atid leader Lapid struck quite a good deal, in insisting on several of his campaign promises or post-election declarations: a smaller cabinet–including legislation to mandate that future cabinets be smaller still–a reduction in the number of deputy ministers, no ministers without portfolio, and–the big one–a commitment for legislation to “equalize the burden” by bringing more Haredi men (ultra-orthodox) into military service. In the last weeks, he made some direct threats to let the process lead to new elections–which some polls suggested would lead to a big increase in seats for his party–if his party did not get the Education ministry for Yesh Atid MK Shay Piron. Likud was insisting that the post stay with its own incumbent, Gideon Saar. Lapid won this showdown, too.
Bayit Yehudi also struck a good deal, with the party claiming some key economic portfolios including the Ministry of Industry and Trade for Bennet and Housing and Construction for Uri Ariel (a leader of the ultra-nationalist National Union, which merged with Bayit Yehudi during the last Knesset term).
As had been previously agreed, Tzipi Livni will be Justice Minister as well as lead negotiator with the Palestinian Authority. Her list’s #3, Amir Peretz, will have the Environmental Protection portfolio. (Livni struck a deal with the Green Movement before the election, and even though Peretz does not represent the Greens, getting the portfolio confirms the support Green voters brought to Livni’s list overall.) The prior agreement for two ministers from Tnuah (6 seats) was another potential source of bargaining breakdown, as when combined with the agreed smaller cabinet, it meant Tnuah would be over-represented. Livni threatened to withdraw her earlier agreement if she were her list’s only minister. Her seats are superfluous for the coalition’s having a majority, but Netanyahu apparently really wanted her (presumably for her international standing), and she got the deal adhered to. The cabinet size was increased from 21 to 22 as part of the agreement to keep Livni’s list at two. (Lapid had campaigned for 18; recent cabinets have had a number of full ministers in the high 20s, with numerous deputies.)1
The biggest deal of all, however, is that the two Haredi parties, Shas and United Torah Judaism, are going to the opposition. Their combined strength of 18 seats made them almost equivalent to Yesh Atid, and Netanyahu tried to play the card of an alternative coalition in the bargaining. There is little doubt that he would have preferred the continuation of a coalition with the Haredi parties over the one he is about to present to the Knesset. However, as long as Yesh Atid continued to be backed by a de-facto post-electoral, but pre-coalition, alliance with Bayit Yehudi, the alternative was not credible.2 The lack of a credible alternative shows up in the significant concessions Netanyahu had to give to his partners.
Based on the likely composition of the government, we can calculate the degree of over/under-representation of each party. Under “Gamson’s Law” we expect the shares of ministers for each party in the agreement to be proportional to the shares each party contributes to the coalition’s parliamentary basis (i.e. its number of seats).
Click to open a larger image in a new window
The table shows the shares calculated both with Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu as separate parties, and with them treated as one. The latter is done because they ran on a joint list. It is clear that the various concessions Netanyahu was forced to concede on policy and specific portfolios to his two main partners were traded for a significant over-representation to the joint list he led in the election. Likud-Beiteinu will have an absolute majority of the cabinet, despite representing less than half the Knesset seats of the coalition (and exactly half if the technically superfluous Tnuah is removed from the calculation).
We can also see that Yisrael Beiteinu was rewarded for being in pre-election coalition with Likud, as it is over-represented if considered as a separate party, especially relative to Bayit Yehudi, which is actually a slightly larger party.
The deal to preserve the second seat for Livni’s Tnuah results in this list being the one that is represented almost perfectly proportional to its seats. Not bad for a superfluous party!
Ultimately, this coalition reflects quite closely the way Israelis voted: an overall right and pro-settler tilt, but decisively away from Haredi dominance of key posts and policies.
Pardon the lack of links. If time permits, I may add some more at a later time. This is based on numerous Haaretz articles, as well as others in Ynet and Times of Israel, and almost daily news reports heard/see on Kol Yisrael radio and IBA-TV.
During the bargaining, there had been statements that Kadima (2 seats) also had joined the Bayit Yehudi-Yesh Atid alliance and that its leader Shaul Mofaz would get one of Yesh Atid’s ministerial posts. But this did not happen. [↩]
Interestingly, Bennet campaigned as if his list had a formal agreement with Likud and then bargained as if he had a formal agreement with Yesh Atid! [↩]
A very good overview of the outcome of the Israeli election is provided by The Times of Israel.
I agree completely with two big take-home points here:
(1) All the hand wringing (my term, not the author’s) about divisions on the center-left was misplaced. The separate parties hoovered up more votes than a unified effort at creating an alternative bloc could have;
(2) The more costly divisions were on the right, due to two parties that fell below the threshold: Otzma L’Yisrael and Am Shalem.
I would add that, thanks to proportional representation and parliamentary government, Israelis will get what they appear to have collectively chosen: a continuation of Netanyahu, but balanced by a larger and more assertive centrist wing of the government.
It is also noteworthy how badly the Labor Party failed to reestablish itself under Shelly Yachimovich’s leadership. She and the party tried to position themselves as some sort of blend of centrist on security and social democratic on economics. The party was supposedly set to become a viable governing alternative–if not in this election, than after a rebuilding phase as the main opposition. The party will indeed be the main opposition, assuming Yesh Atid’s likely entry into the cabinet, but 15 seats is a very weak position.
Meretz doubled its seat total, probably as a result of otherwise Labor voters disgusted that the “new” Labor seemed to want to pretend the settlements and two-state issues would just go away. At one point, Yachimovich said something like “everyone knows my position” on these issues. That’s not likely good enough for someone calling herself a candidate for PM. I can’t imagine it will be long before there is another leadership change in Labor.
This campaign advertisement by Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home) has been ruled a violation of Israel’s campaign laws.
The ad, showing Likud leader and PM Binyamin Netanyahu and Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennet, says “Strong together, choosing Bennet”. Bayit Yehudi is mainly a Judean/Samarian (West Bank) settlers’ party, and is competing for votes on the Israeli right with Likud. The two are almost certain to go into coalition together after the election.
However, the ad was banned on the grounds that it gives the impression the two parties are cooperating in the campaign and committed to working together after the election. As there is no such mutual declaration, the ad was deemed misleading. (My account and the ad image are based on an IBA news segment from Friday, 18 July.)
Relations between Bennet and Netanyahu are known to be strained. When asked about that recently, Bennet suggested that their tensions are nothing that 15 seats could not overcome.
Bennet has been the sensation of this campaign, with his party originally thought to be likely to win 7-9 seats but polling in the 15-18 range in recent weeks. Some polls have shown it second, after the Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu alliance. More likely it will finish third, behind Labor.
The election is Tuesday.
The ad is photographed by me from a news broadcast of Israel Broadcast Authority, carried in the USA by World Harvest Television.
Today’s election for the state assembly of Lower Saxony, Germany, was considered too close to call as polls closed. It is regarded as one of Germany’s most important bellwethers, given the state’s large size and that its election is occurring several months before a federal election.
The state’s incumbent government mirrors the federal: a coalition of the Christian Democrats and Free Democrats. The latter party has had a string of bad results in state elections, and many pre-election polls suggested it might not pass the 5% threshold in today’s election. If it did not, the Christian Democrats (CDU) would not be able to govern except in a grand coalition with the Social Democrats (SPD).
However, exit polls suggest the FDP has reached 9%:
Its gain was attributed to the CDU governor of the state, half-Scot David McAllister, who tacitly encouraged his supporters to split their ballot to make sure the FDP would clear the 5-percent hurdle needed to remain in parliament — a precondition for him remaining in office.
Pre-election polls had put the CDU at 42% or higher, but all those threshold-surpassing list votes for the FDP had to come from somewhere. As a result, the CDU is down to 36%, according to the exit polls.
As for the SPD, its former federal chancellor (PM), Gerhard Schröder was shown on DW-TV campaigning directly on the promise of an SPD-Green coalition. He said (paraphrasing from the translation on DW English): voters know the SPD and Greens served them well when we governed before, because the SPD took care of jobs, while the Greens took care of the environment”.
The SPD is on 32% and the Greens on 13.5%. Thus the two opposing combines have almost the same combined vote totals. Both the Left and Pirates are below 5%.1
The campaign signs, photographed from the DW Journal (aired in the USA by Link TV), are interesting. Note how the CDU and SPD both emphasize their leaders, while the FDP and Greens explicitly call for list votes (Zweitstimme, or “second votes”) in the state’s two-vote mixed-member proportional system.
I had seen some polling that had the Left well above the threshold; maybe there was some tactical voting there, too, by soft Left voters who feared voting for the Left would only increase the odds of a grand coalition, given that SPD-Green-Left post-electoral cooperation would have been unlikely. [↩]
Deputy PM Nick Clegg, of the Liberal Democrats, has played one of the few cards he has against PM David Cameron and the Conservative Party. After admitting defeat due to Conservative backbench resistance and pulling the plug on the plans for House of Lords reform, he has now said that his party will renege on its prior consent to support reducing the size of the House of Commons by 50 seats. The resulting redistricting, according to most accounts, would hit the LibDems proportionately hardest, and might be the Conservatives’ best hope for a (manufactured) majority in 2015.
Never mind that the LibDems’ support for the reduction-and-redistricting was linked in the Coalition Agreement not to Lords reform but to the referendum on the Alternative Vote. The referendum went ahead, albeit with Cameron leading the charge against the proposed change, and its going down to ignominious defeat.
There just are not many good cards left in Clegg’s hand. It is hard to see how he had any other choice than to do this. Labour is also opposed to the redistricting and presumably will vote with the LibDems on this one out of party interest. So he can inflict a defeat on the Conservatives on this issue and thereby has leverage.
Selected news accounts:
Daily Mail (the headline and story are overly dramatic–as usual–but the story has a good overview of the controversy appended to it).
There are many problems of the Israeli left and, as reported in Haaretz, a new think tank called Molad is hoping to do something about it.
Comments by Molad officials Avner Inbar and Assaf Sharon highlight the longer-term shifts in both Israeli voting behavior and partisan alignments:
The right has increased its strength by a negligible figure of 4 percent in 20 years, but the left has dropped a whopping 20 percent. “The public,” says Assaf Sharon, “hasn’t moved to the right. It simply fled from the left.”
“The right in Israel operates as a united bloc,” says Inbar. “Anyone who votes for Lieberman or Shas knows that he or she is voting for a government to be headed by Netanyahu.”
In contrast, the left does not present a clear agenda, and lacks the structure of a cohesive political camp.
The point about prospective post-electoral alignments being understood by the electorate (and conveyed by the parties themselves) is important in such a fragmented system. The broader “right” camp, which includes the religious parties, is indeed more cohesive than the “left”. But it is less clear to me the extent to which this is a tactical problem–as Inbar seems to be implying–and the extent to which it is more structural. That is, the “left”, even when it was being led by the actually rather right-leaning Kadima, and even when Kadima won the most seats, as in 2009, is just not well positioned to attract coalition partners out of the diverse partisan agents of different Israeli voting blocs–especially with respect to the religious parties.1
Well, the article does say that Molad sees this as a ten-year project…
I would imagine this means the political-reform discussions will end within government for now. As for the Tal Law–which exempts most Haredi Jews from the military draft and which is invalid, per a Supreme Court ruling, as of 1 August–presumably it will be replaced by some modest adjustments bargained between Likud and its other partners, including the Haredi parties.
“The priests are chanting.” Antonis Samaras, the leader of New Democracy, has now been sworn in as Prime Minister of Greece, three days after his party won the plurality of votes and seats in Greece’s second election of 2012.
The Athens News live blog for June 20 (follow link in first line) offered regular updates about the apparently highly contentions bargaining. And I do not mean between ND and partners. I mean within Pasok and Democratic Left, the two parties that will join ND in offering Samaras and his cabinet a vote of confidence. According to updates during the day, the Pasok caucus meeting went longer than planned and included various excitements such as yelling and the throwing of an iPad.
As I understand it, the government will be a single-party minority cabinet. No Pasok or Democratic Left MPs will sit in cabinet, but they are agreeing to support it.
Evangelos Venizeols, Pasok leader, “confirmed that Pasok will be taking part in the coalition with no parliamentary members and insisted that the most important part of this entire effort was not the government itself but the formulation of a national negotiation team.” (2:05 pm update)
Fotis Kouvelis, Democratic Left leader, stated that his “parliamentary group has decided to give a vote of confidence to the this government. Our support of course, depends on correct government policy being set in place. The process of policy formulation is still in progress, with our party pressuring for the negation of any measures that have already damaged our society and its people. Our country needs a government, this is important, but the policy it follows is even more important.” (1:07)
In the 2:20 update there is some background on the new Finance Minister, Vasilas Rapanos.
According to the election results posted by the Ministry of Interior, the government and its two support partners combine for 179 seats, which is 59.7%. ND has 129 of the seats, thanks to earning the 50-seat bonus for being the largest party, which it was by just less than three percentage points over Syriza (Radical Left), which will lead the opposition.
The government’s electoral basis–the sum of votes obtained by the three parties offering confidence–is 48.2%. Thus, while not actually endorsed by a majority of voters, the parties that empower this government are very close to a majority. And it is a majority of those votes that were cast for above-threshold parties; 5.98% of the vote was wasted on parties that did not clear the 3% threshold. (This is less than half what it was in the super-fragmented election in May.) The largest of the below-threshold parties had only 1.59%, so we can hardly say that these voters expected their votes to count for empowering a government, or a parliamentary opposition. (In May, two parties, the Greens and the Orthodox Rally, were at 2.9%.)
The big re-sorting of voters in this election, compared to May, seems to come from the lower wasted-vote percentage. (Turnout was actually down, but not by much: 62.5% vs. 65.1%.) Both ND and Syriza grew their support by similar amounts, and the margin of ND over Syriza was very similar in both elections. Pasok did, however, suffer a further, but small, decline. Independent Greeks also did about 3 percentage-points worse, with their voters perhaps going back to ND, from which IG is a splinter. In this election, no party cleared 30% of the vote, but that’s quite a change from May, when none cleared 20%.1
Golden Dawn, the (not-so-neo) nazi party, did about as well, winning 6.9% in June, compared to 7.0% in May.
The outcome, for now, seems about as “good” as could have been expected. Yes, the Greek electoral system–which is not proportional–risks significant distortion when even a party that has won the vote 29.7%-26.9% gets 50 bonus seats and 43% of total seats, while the runner up gets only 23.4% of seats. Yes, there is something unseemly about the old and discredited, formerly alternating in power, Pasok and ND teaming up despite Pasok’s spectacular fall in voter support in recent elections (including, as noted above, a small fall in the past six weeks). Nonetheless, the government is backed by nearly three fifths of parliament and about half the voters, and includes one of the parties opposed to the current bailout terms–more pragmatically so than Syriza, which can carp and organize protests, but will have no say in the country’s policy for now. Whether this government can come up with policy solutions, and whether it can even hold together, are questions for another day.
Today voters in Serbia voted in a runoff election for the country’s presidency; legislative elections were held concurrent with the first round on 6 May. Meanwhile, France is in the interim period between presidential and legislative elections. What difference does this make?
France has long been seen as the model of semi-presidential government (notwithstanding that there actually are older examples). Specifically, it is of the premier-presidential subtype, which is to say that the president actually has very limited powers over government formation and policy-making, unless he leads a party or alliance of parties with a majority in the parliament. Under the premier-presidential subtype, the premier and cabinet are responsible to the parliamentary majority, but not to the president. Nonetheless, when the president is the acknowledged head of the legislative majority, he can be as unchecked in practice as any executive leader in any democracy.
The Serbian constitution, is unambiguously premier-presidential. Perhaps the presidency is very slightly less powerful, but the basic configuration of powers is similar to that of France.
So let’s compare the two countries, at this very moment, in terms of the process of government formation. In a premier-presidential system, “government formation” typically means the president initiates the appointment of a premier, but only upon taking account of the balance of forces in the parliament, which must approve his selection (and, solely, has the constitutional power to remove it subsequently).
In Serbia, the first round of the presidential election produced a close result, which was not decisive. Boris Tadic of the Democratic Party won the plurality, but only around a quarter of the valid votes. Close behind him was Tomislav Nikolic of the nationalist Serbian Progressive Party. In third place, but with only around 14%, was Ivica Dacic, of the Socialist Party of Serbia. (No other candidate had even 7.5%.)
This outcome made Dacic, the strongest of the candidates not qualifying for the runoff, potentially influential. To say “kingmaker” would be an overstatement, given that even if he could deliver his support as a bloc, neither candidate would reach 40%. Still, that did not stop some stories following the first round from suggesting Dacic would be the kingmaker.
Dacic tried, by announcing an alliance with Tadic, amid speculation that Dacic would become premier. Legislative elections were held at the same time as the first round, and they gave the alliance led by Tadic, called Choice for a Better Life, 67 seats. Nikolic’s alliance, Let’s Get Serbia Moving, won 73 seats. Dacic’s Socialists won 44 seats. With an assembly size of 250, a coalition led by Tadic and Dacic could combine for 111 seats–not enough for a majority, but with 44.4% of the seats, a strong base from which to build a government. Only one small detail: this coalition had to succeed in electing Tadic to the presidency first.
The voters did not cooperate, however, as Nikolic has won today’s runoff. Now Nikolic will need to begin negotiations to put together a cabinet that can command a majority in parliament.
This strikes me as more or less how premier-presidentialism is supposed to work. Parliamentary elections determine the parameters of coalition possibilities, given that–as in a parliamentary democracy–the cabinet must have the confidence of the parliamentary majority. Yet when there is no electorally based majority, it falls not to a third party in parliament, but to the voters, acting through their agent in the presidency, to serve as the real kingmaker.
Now contrast this process just sketched with that in France now. The presidential election is concluded, but parliamentary elections are looming in June. However, the newly inaugurated President, Francois Hollande, has already appointed his cabinet. Meanwhile, Hollande’s Socialists and the allies of the presidential candidate who finished fourth, Jean-Luc Melenchon of the Left Front, are divvying up the districts in which they will present joint candidacies, in order to maximize the seats of the broad left. In effect, Hollande (and Melenchon) are asking voters to ratify decisions they have taken since Hollande was voted into the presidency.
Events in France seem less in the spirit of premier-presidentialism, because they lend a far more “presidentialized” air to the whole process by permitting the appointment of the next government before the election of the parliament to which it is (formally) accountable.
The critical difference here is in the electoral cycle, with Serbia having its parliamentary elections concurrent with the first round of the presidential contest, whereas France, since 2002, has been employing a “honeymoon” cycle with parliamentary elections following close on the heels of the presidential runoff. When combined with the two-round majority-plurality system by which France elects its National Assembly, the honeymoon elections will tend to create a very large president-supporting majority, rather than a legislature that serves as a check on the president through coalition politics.
While both France and Serbia are clearly premier-presidential systems, the Serbian electoral cycle is much more in the spirit of the hybrid process of government formation that this subtype of constitutional form is supposed to generate.
The elections are off. Some things you just don’t see coming. That’s what keeps political science, and political blogging, interesting.
What Mofaz saw coming was the collapse of Kadima support, and the complete absence of any bounce from his becoming party leader and an unlikely head of the center-left bloc. It is less clear what Netanyahu’s motives are, as the polls showed a large increase in Likud seats from an early election, and a dominant position in subsequent coalition-building.
There is a mention of an agreement to pursue changes to the electoral system, but it is not clear of what sort.
Germany’s largest state, North Rhine-Westphalia, will go to the polls in May, following the parliamentary defeat earlier this month of its minority coalition government.
The coalition consists of the Social Democrats (SPD) and Greens, but these two parties emerged from the July, 2010, election two seats short of a majority.
Minority governments are essentially unheard of in Germany. I do not know how this one survived initially, whether with tacit outside support from the Left Party or with tactical abstentions from the Christian Democrats (CDU) and/or Free Democrats (FDP). However, at this point, polls have been showing that the SPD and Greens would win a clear majority in new elections. So I assume this defeat was strategically planned by the government–sending up a budget the combined opposition would “have to” defeat.
As in many federal systems with staggered national and regional elections, in Germany state elections are often seen as bellwethers for the next national election. If that is the case, then not only the expected NRW result, but also recent elections in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Baden-Wurttemberg, and Rhineland-Palatinate, give the CDU and FDP reason to be very, very worried.
Some scenes of Dusseldorf, NRW, from my travel collection (June, 2010) follow. Dusseldorf, the city of Altbier!
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. [↩]
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