As New Zealand’s election approaches, there is a swing away from the major parties in favour of smaller groupings on the political fringes that could end up deciding the direction of the next government.
Support for parties at the centre of New Zealand politics has dropped to its lowest point in two decades with Labour on 27% and National on 34.5%, according to the September Guardian Essential poll. The combined “centre” now sits at 61.5% – its lowest point since 2002 – down from 81% at the 2017 election and 76% in 2020.
The rising cost of living and post-pandemic malaise has translated into dissatisfaction with the political status quo. In August’s Guardian Essential poll, 70% of people were “finding it a bit difficult” or “struggling” to afford food and groceries, and 55% said the country was “on the wrong track”. Alongside those sentiments was a disillusionment with the main political options on offer: with 46% of those polled in September strongly or somewhat agreeing with the statement that “none of the current options for prime minister really appeal to me”. That dissatisfaction has left around a third of voters choosing smaller parties on the margins – a jump up from the 2020 election, which saw roughly 20% of votes go to minor parties.
Recent polling suggests the Labour party may not make it back into power, but should its fortunes change, it would likely only be able to form a government in a tripartite coalition alongside the Greens and Te Pāti Māori. That union could see Labour pulled further towards the left, with the two minor parties pushing for greater investment in the social safety net, and greater demands to curb climate change and poverty.
A National-Act-New Zealand First coalition looks to be the most likely election result – in a significant shift away from the Labour-dominated status quo.
The minor parties
Act: Polling at about 10%, Act appears on track to hold influence in any centre-right coalition should the National party end up in the driver’s seat. Its priorities include significant cuts to government welfare, spending and regulation, tougher criminal sentences and an end to “co-governance” with Māori.
NZ First: The populist party says it is taking aim at “woke extremism”, which includes getting rid of Māori names on government institutions and removing gender education from the curriculum. It is also campaigning against what it calls “separatism”- relating to mechanisms that would give Māori more opportunity to have a say in their affairs.
Green party: The leftwing Greens, a traditional Labour partner, sit at 11% in the last Guardian poll. The party wants to tackle climate change, build warm affordable housing, create greener cities, and strengthen commitments to the Treaty of Waitangi, New Zealand’s founding document that provides a framework of principles for the relationship between Māori and the crown.
Te Pāti Māori: The party advocates for indigenous rights, in particular for its assertion of mana motuhake (self-determination) and the liberation of Māori. It believes the key to Māori wellbeing lies in Māori-led solutions and, while it is ambivalent about aligning itself with any major party, it has ruled out working with National.
‘Dissatisfied’ with major parties
While previous governments have often required a “swing” coalition partner to place them into power – including when New Zealand First joined forces with Jacinda Ardern in 2017 – polling for the October election projects that the larger parties will most likely unite with parties that tug them further toward the margins.
New Zealand’s electoral system – a version of the mixed-member proportional (MMP) format – was established 30 years ago to better reflect diversity, put an end to the horse race between the two major parties, and more fairly distribute seats to smaller parties based on their share of the votes. As the kingmakers under the MMP system, the minor parties are poised to hold increased levels of sway over ministerial positions and policy negotiations.
This election could see the highest minor party vote because there are “record high numbers of people saying New Zealand is on the wrong track”, says Lara Greaves, an associate professor of political science at Victoria University.
“Part of it can be attributed to being dissatisfied with the major parties and [it] becomes a bit of the bandwagon effect.”
The rise in popularity for minor parties is a “reversion to type” after the anomalous 2020 election that saw the Labour party voted in with a landslide majority, says Richard Shaw, a politics professor at Massey University, adding that New Zealanders may be distancing themselves from Ardern’s government.
“[Ardern] reminds us of a time that an increasing number of us wish to put to one side and move on from,” Shaw says.
This could lead to a very different political landscape – one, Shaw cautions, could become our “2016 election”, referring to the US elections that saw Donald Trump voted into power.
“It is normal for the National party to win elections in New Zealand … we tend to have conservative governments … but I don’t think this will be a ‘small C’ conservative, I think it will be quite extreme.”
This week, the leader of the National party, Christopher Luxon, said he would be open to forming a coalition with New Zealand First, which, should the smaller party make it to parliament, could lead to a “three-headed-monster” coalition alongside Act that would be “very challenging to manage”, Shaw said.
New Zealand First and Act have regularly shared an open dislike for one another. The leader of New Zealand First, Winston Peters, has ruled out working with Labour again, but has made it clear that he will not play nice with Act, which could lead to a chaotic union, should National need them both.
Newshub’s latest poll suggests that in order for National to meet the 61 seats needed to form a government, it would require Act’s 11 seats and New Zealand First’s six on top of its 49 seats. The left bloc is trailing at 54 seats combined.
The rise of Act has been significant since 2017– from a single MP, its leader, David Seymour, to the possibility of more than 10 MPs on current polling, marking a notable shift towards the right within New Zealand.
While New Zealand may not reach quite the same polarisation within politics as seen in the US, it is inching closer to that dynamic, Shaw said.
“[Act and New Zealand First] will bring a style, a policy offering and views about the nature of the world into the House that will be quite divisive and will change the tenor of the way we do politics.”
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2023/sep/30/mainstream-malaise-how-minor-parties-could-decide-outcome-of-new-zealands-election Mainstream malaise: how minor parties could decide outcome of New Zealand’s election | New Zealand