NEW ZEALAND ELECTION: by Bernard MoranNews Weekly
How Helen Clark snatched victory
, October 22, 2005
Labour's Helen Clark has managed to win office again, but will face a newly invigorated opposition National Party, writes Bernard Moran.Billed as the most exciting national election for decades, New Zealand voters watched Labour's leader Helen Clark and National's Don Brash steer through a series of mishaps and missteps until Labour sneaked over the line.
With days to go, National had a 10-point lead; but a last minute rally, particularly by Pacific Island voters, returned Labour for a third term, with support from the Greens.
Brash enjoyed early popular success in 2004 with a hard-hitting speech that accused the Labour Government of pandering to Maori people. He tapped into the growing resentment at perceived race-based favouritism and politically correct censorship.
Labour (read Helen Clark) reacted immediately, and ruthlessly cut back "Closing the Gap" initiatives for the Maori.
However, through 2005, Don Brash's approach on Maori issues increasingly appeared to lack understanding of the subtle social undercurrents that most New Zealanders (Maori and European) intuitively perceive by living with and alongside each other.
Brash is no racist (his second wife is Singaporean), but he sounded an assimilationist, unaware of the realpolitik that New Zealand is essentially two peoples within one nation. Post-election, he has admitted that he might have given the wrong impression.
Traditionally, most Maori have always voted Labour; but in 2003 an event occurred that deeply undermined that support. A Maori subtribe around Nelson launched an application to the High Court, claiming part of the local foreshore so as to develop a mussel aquaculture project.
European New Zealanders (Pakehas) hold sacrosanct that the coastal foreshore belongs to all New Zealanders. The Government, afraid of the seismic national implications should the High Court grant title to the foreshore claim, rapidly moved to prevent it going further.
Helen Clark's Government was in a fiendishly difficult situation, particularly the Maori Labour MPs. A compromise policy gradually emerged; but those Maori angered by Labour joined the new Maori Party, which has three MPs after the election.
As the German elections reveal, Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) - New Zealand's voting system since 1986 - is about building coalitions. As I write, news is coming through that the Maori Party is holding talks with Don Brash and leading figures in the National Party.Nuclear ships
In the months leading up to the elections, Labour played hardball with National over the anti-nuclear ships law and ruthlessly exploited anti-American sentiment in the electorate.
National's problem was that it had internal divisions over repealing the anti-nuclear law and feared the law's so-called "iconic status" with "women and youth". Party members had convinced themselves that repealing the law would be electoral disaster, even though it was the right thing to do in the national interest.
The consensus among political commentators is that National will benefit from its three years in opposition. Unlike Labour, it has formidable new talent who will benefit from being "blooded" in Opposition.
Don Brash, for all his faults, is praised for the party's turnaround from 2002, bringing in new blood and leading National so close to victory. However, at 65, he will be expected to step down within two years in favour of John Key, National's shadow finance minister.
New Zealand-born John Key is the son of Lithuanian Jewish refugees, and was raised by his mother in a state house. He had a meteoric career in the City at Merrill Lynch and rose to head its foreign exchange department, including overseeing the setting up of operations in Ireland.
On future economic policy, he has carefully expressed an interest in how flat taxes are working out in Eastern Europe and suggested that the concept might be relevant for New Zealand. He recently said that his first-hand experience of the Irish "Tiger" reforms have influenced his thinking on building the New Zealand economy.Labour's social agenda
When New Zealanders speak of "Sisterhood", they are referring to four major players of the feminist movement having now become Prime Minister, Parliament's Speaker (from Attorney-General), Chief Justice and Governor-General.
Dr Muriel Newman, an MP for the free-market ACT Party (which originated from the Association of Consumers and Taxpayers), described the political milieu in her June 2005 commentary:
"The unsuspecting public is not really aware of their (Labour) anti-family agenda. That extreme agenda is deeply embedded within Labour's radical and lesbian factions and has been a significant force driving not only the party, but also parts of the public service, for more than thirty years."
Prime Minister Helen Clark, as a former political scientist, has always been an admirer of the Swedish Social Democrats, and has developed close personal links during her visits. She would like to see much of the Swedish model embedded in the New Zealand social economy before 2008.
Always a committed and public supporter of the United Nations, she is expected to leave at the end of her current term for a senior UN post.