NEW ZEALAND: by Bernard MoranNews Weekly
November 8 election: Helen Clark's last hurrah?
, October 25, 2008
Labour might conceivably remain in power for a fourth term, thanks to NZ's voting system. Bernard Moran reports.For New Zealanders, the race to win the ninth floor of the Beehive in Wellington on November 8 is providing drama and nail-biting uncertainty.
As of October 13, most of the polls show Helen Clark's Labour Party coming from behind to close the gap to 4 per cent on John Key's Nationals.
Yet, the latest Colmar-Brunton Poll has National ahead by 18 per cent, with 63 seats in parliament, to 41 for Labour.
It looks like an easy win for National, but with New Zealand's Mixed Member Proportional system, Labour could remain in power for a fourth term, with the help of the minor parties. Indeed, the Maori Party could hold the balance of power.
Since gaining power in 1999, Prime Minister Helen Clark has proved a formidable party leader in running three minority governments, while dependent on arrangements with United Future, the Greens and New Zealand First.
A resurgent National Party can rely on the free market party, ACT. It's too hard to tell which way the Maori Party could go at this stage.
For Australian readers, here is a brief profile of the minor parties:NZ First
, led by Winston Peters (who has been stood down as Minister of Foreign Affairs - more on that later), has seven MPs. Socially conservative, its support-base is the older generation in their 70s. Winston ensures that they are looked after with concessions for pensioners.
The Green Party
is an opposition party with a co-operation agreement with the Government. It has six members in parliament.United Future
has a confidence and supply agreement with the 2005 Government and has three MPs, two of them socially conservative.
The Maori Party
has four MPs and is led by Tariana Turia and Dr Peter Sharples. One of the four MPs is the former firebrand radical, Hone Harawira. Under Mrs Turia's quiet but iron hand, he has kept his head diligently down. The Maori Party has gained considerable respect for its political acumen. Although most Maori want to see it aligned with Labour, Mrs Turia has not ruled out a relationship with National should they win in November.
The free market party ACT
(which originated from the Association of Consumers and Taxpayers) is an Opposition party, led by Rodney Hide, to the right of National. Sir Roger Douglas, the architect of the 1984 Labour government economic reforms, recently rejoined ACT and is a candidate.
The Progressive Party
is a partner in the Clark Labour Government. Jim Anderton, its sole, long-serving MP, serves as a Cabinet minister in the government.
Three Christian parties are competing in the election. Because of the split, none are expected to attain the 5 per cent threshold to enter parliament.
I should explain why Helen Clark took over Winston Peters' role as Minister of Foreign Affairs. A charismatic, mercurial figure, Peters was once widely expected to be the first Maori prime minister. But he proved a headstrong maverick within the National Government and eventually was kicked out to form NZ First, where he campaigned on an anti-Asian immigration platform.
This was rather embarrassing when he was later appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs and met with Asian leaders who were well-briefed on his tactics. Once, he claimed, before a mostly Chinese audience in Auckland, that he was in part Chinese himself through distant anthropological links between Maori and the indigenous people of Taiwan.
Earlier this year, Owen Glenn, a multi-millionaire Kiwi businessman living in Monaco and a generous supporter of the Labour Party, arrived in Auckland to open the new university business school to which he had donated NZ$7.5 million. He casually mentioned that he had sought Winston's help to be appointed NZ Consul in Monaco.
At the opening ceremony, Prime Minister Helen Clark stood well away from Glenn and pointedly ignored him. One of her ministers, Trevor Mallard, placed himself in front of Glenn to prevent any contact. It was all on the evening television news.
Later, Winston publicly denied on television that he had received from Glenn a $100,000 donation to a legal trust. He continued to obfuscate around the matter and the government spin-doctors put out that Glenn was possibly mentally ill and suffering from memory loss.
Knowing that the smears originated from the Ninth Floor, and smarting from his public humiliation, Owen Glenn flew to New Zealand to set the record straight. His revelations at a series of media conferences and before a parliamentary select committee were hugely damaging to Winston Peters' reputation and the Labour leadership.Toxic ruthlessness
The hearings made gripping television and revealed the almost toxic ruthlessness of the Labour leaders towards their most generous donor. Glenn commented that he wouldn't want to be in the trenches with them. "They'd throw me out to save themselves!" he said.
Helen Clark's entire career has been spent, first as an academic in political science and then rising through the ranks of the Labour Party. Her contemporaries and new Labour candidates are mostly from trade union, teaching and academic backgrounds.
National Party leader John Key's mother was a Jewish refugee. His father died when he was nine, and he and his sister were raised in a state house in Wellington. His mother was extremely hard working and dedicated to instilling aspiration in her children.
Key went overseas, eventually joining US investment banking giant Merrill Lynch, heading global foreign exchange and European bond and derivative trading in London. He was in charge of establishing the bank's operations in Ireland. A multi-millionaire, he returned to Auckland in 2001 to realise his long-held ambition to enter politics.
Two National Party names to watch out for are Tim Groser, associate spokesman for foreign affairs and trade, formerly New Zealand's chief negotiator in the GATT Uruguay Round and one of the world's leading experts on international trade, and Chris Finlayson, a practising Catholic, who is one of New Zealand's top legal minds and a would-be Attorney-General in a National government.Controversial bestseller
In early 2008, Ian Wishart, editor of Investigate
magazine and fearless investigative journalist, published a remarkable 336-page book, Absolute Power: The Helen Clark Years
(details at www.helenclarkbook.com
). Part of its fame is that, despite being seven months on the bestseller list, it has never been reviewed or mentioned in the NZ media, except by callers on radio talkback shows.
On page 208 commences a chapter entitled "The Elephant in the Room". It deals in unprecedented detail with the unmentionable in NZ politics, the alleged lesbianism of Helen Clark and the sexual orientation of her husband, staff and friends.
Wishart argues that this is in the public interest due to Clark's attitude to family and marriage and consequently her ideological influence on social policy.- Bernard Moran is a New Zealand journalist.