Uncertainty and shifting alliances: What lies ahead for New Zealand politics?

There were a total of 17 parties and 449 candidates standing in the 2023 New Zealand General Election. I went to bed on Saturday night at midnight, feeling quite sick after watching the results come through on the television.

I woke in the morning to news broadcasts talking of a “bloodbath” and saying that “National [the National Party] exercised absolute murder on Labour”. It’s quite shocking to see these sorts of descriptions at a time when there is real war and killing going on across the world in the Ukraine, Palestine, and elsewhere. In reality, New Zealand is just having a largely peaceful election, and we are observing the three-yearly democratic process under our MMP (Mixed Member Proportional) system. 

Undoubtedly our new Prime Minister-to-be, Christopher Luxon, and National (New Zealand’s equivalent of the UK’s Conservatives) won. Labour leader and PM of the past nine months, Chris Hipkins, conceded defeat graciously. The six-year period of Labour-led government that began with Jacinda Ardern at the helm in 2017 is now over. Yes, some will be dancing in the streets – although, with that said, I am not sure that National people dance in the streets.

But it’s interesting, and vitally important, to note that National received what I understand to be seven times as much funding as the New Zealand Labour Party. In 2022 it was reported that National received $2.3 million from only 24 big donors. National and the ACT Party received $12 million, compared with the Green Party getting $1.4 million and Labour getting $1.2 million. Te Pati Maori [The Maori Party] received only $99,000 in donations, 82 times less than National. Although there are rules around political donations, there are no limits to business or individual donations, and they are tilted towards those with the deepest pockets. The National Party doesn’t seem to see any issue with this and is on record saying that these donors understand how crucial it is for National to execute an effective party vote campaign and their financial support will drive their ability to do this. The reality is that the leaders of every party could say this.

However, there are some silver linings. The Green Party increased their electorate seats from one to three and will have 14 MPs – their highest ever, despite them being out of Government and in the Opposition for the next term.  Auckland Central MP, Chlöe Swarbrick, retained her seat defying the general blue [National] wave. Te Pati Maori (the Maori Party) have increased their MPs from one to four, including Hana Rawhiti Maipi-Clarke, the youngest Member of Parliament since 1853.

One of the major differences between the parties has been their stance on things Maori and particularly Te Tiriti o Waitangi (the Treaty of Waitangi). In the last few years an increasing numbers of New Zealanders are speaking or learning to speak Maori, and there is support for co-governance, the existence of Te Aka Whai Ora (the separate Maori Health Authority) and bilingual road signs.  Labour and the Greens generally support these things. National says they will abolish Te Aka Whai Ora and ACT wants a referendum on the Treaty of Waitangi.

The actual formation of the incoming Parliament is far from settled. Since the advent of the MMP system the New Zealand Parliament generally has 120 members.  On the present count National has 50 and ACT 11, equalling only 61 seats, so a slim majority. 

Firstly, there are about half a million “special” votes still to be counted, including overseas votes and votes cast by people outside their electorates. In the past these have tended to favour the Greens and Labour rather than the parties of the right. However, commentators don’t necessarily think that will be the case this time.

Secondly, when the number of electorates won exceeds the votes won, overhang seats are created. In this election Te Pati Maori won four seats, but only won 2.6% of the vote which means the size of Parliament will increase to 121.

Thirdly, the ACT candidate in the Port Waikato electorate unfortunately died just before the Election. Because of this a by-election will be held on 25th November. It is generally accepted that National will win this by-election thus increasing the size of Parliament by one, bringing it to 122. 

If these things eventuate, National and ACT will require 62 MPs. Winston Peters’ New Zealand First Party, for a second time, rose from defeat, coming back with eight seats. While Labour had ruled out working with them, National has indicated that they will if they need to.

It is hard to know what the results of this election will mean for the future. Will the governing parties (National, ACT and New Zealand First) be successful and their actions appeal to voters? Will Labour successfully rebuild? Will the Green Party and Te Pati Maori grow in strength and appeal? At this stage it is hard to know. New Zealand has some interesting times ahead.


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