New Zealand Labour forced into new coalitionby Bernard MoranNews Weekly
, August 10, 2002
Bernard Moran reports from Auckland on the outcome of the recent New Zealand election, particularly the emergence of a new Christian-based party, United Future New Zealand and Winston Peter's New Zealand First.All the political pundits agree that this has been a fascinating election, with an intriguing result. On Saturday, July 27, a little-known Christian-based party, United Future New Zealand, gained nine seats and is positioned to hold the balance of power.
Just three-quarters of Kiwis enrolled, voted under the Multi-Member Proportional system (MMP) introduced in 1996. Political commentators agree that the voting pattern reflects general understanding of how MMP is designed to work, with minority parties well represented in the House.
Labour won a second term with 52 seats in the 120-seat Parliament. Helen Clark's ally, former deputy leader Jim Anderton, is back with his Progressive Coalition winning two seats. His party, the leftist Alliance, had earlier self-destructed in anger over Anderton's support for Labour sending SAS troops to the war in Afghanistan.
The Greens have eight seats, which enables Prime Minister Helen Clark to win confidence motions in Parliament. If the Greens cause trouble, she can rely on United Future NZ.
The National Party has been devastated with only 21 per cent of the vote. Twelve of its 39 MPs have gone, the worst result in its 66-year old history. "In hindsight, we made every mistake, you could possibly make," admitted a distraught party leader, Bill English.
Winston Peters' New Zealand First did well and has 13 MPs in the House, but there's bad feeling between Helen Clark and Winston, both rejecting any thought of coalition.
Reflecting on her four-seat majority, Helen Clark must be greatly relieved that Television New Zealand waited until Sunday night to show in its entirety, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation interview where she twice walked out. The whole episode is most revealing and would certainly have influenced Kiwi voters had it been shown before election day.
New Zealand newspapers reported Helen Clark's interpretation that she had walked out of the interview as the victim of "an unpleasant, hostile and rude, Australian reporter", who apparently had grilled her about allegations of lesbianism, an arranged marriage and why she was childless.
"Well that's a bit on the nose," thought Kiwis, imagining a leering Les Patterson-type reporter.
In fact, when the actual interview was shown, it began with pictures of Clark at a Maori ceremony and the neutral voiceover noted that she was childless, that she had cried on her wedding day to Peter Davis, because she would have preferred to remain in a de facto relationship, but her handlers had insisted on marriage. Cut to pictures of Bill English, Catholic, married and the father of six. That was all, the commentator was merely contrasting their respective backgrounds.
The program gave a brief introduction to "Paintergate", where the Prime Minister signed a painting for charity, that she had not herself painted. Complaints were laid to the police by a Wellington doctor and there was an extensive enquiry to establish whether an act of forgery had been committed.
Helen Clark refused to answer certain police questions sent to her and the program showed a staffer who burnt the painting during the enquiry. When the reporter politely raised "Paintergate", the Prime Minister immediately walked out.
Persuaded to return by a staffer, the Prime Minister faced an obviously flummoxed reporter. "I was only trying to find out ..."
"That's it," responded Clark and she walked out again.
The three New Zealand political commentators watching this noted that she had sold a completely different version of the interview to Kiwis. Clark is generally open with the media, but on "Paintergate", where her integrity is being questioned, she has a policy of zero tolerance to any questions.
The meteoric rise of United Future from obscurity is unprecedented. Leader, Peter Dunne, was identified with the Rogernomics reforms of the 1980s and then left Labour to serve as an independent MP, with a huge personal majority.
Several years ago, he joined forces with the former Christian Democrats, recruited a list of new candidates and embarked on a seemingly lost cause to get them into Parliament.
His unlikely saviour was the controversial television worm on a special election debate featuring all the party leaders. However to prevent the worm inhibiting debate, it was invisible to viewers and participants and the results only released later in the evening.Common sense
Earnest, stolid Dunne was a revelation. His responses were succinct, articulate, prescriptive and most importantly - packed with common sense. The worm shot up, his ratings soared accordingly.
Under MMP, voters have two votes: one for the person they want to represent them in their electorate and the second is for the party they wish to see in Parliament. On the Party vote, Kiwis put nine United Future candidates into Parliament.
Seven of them are committed Christians, with solid work backgrounds. New Zealand pro-lifers were encouraged to give their party votes to United Future, whose program includes a Commission for the Family and pro-family policies.
It is widely suspected that Labour in its second term has a liberal social agenda waiting in the wings, including abortion and same-sex marriage. The unexpected arrival of United Future as a serious coalition partner, has the potential to threaten that agenda.
The National Party's campaign was simply inept.
New Zealand voters still remember too well the squandered opportunities of National during its years in power through the 1990s, and English should have had the nous to acknowledge that factor and create new policy initiatives. Don Brash, the former head of the Reserve Bank and the most knowledgeable expert on the economy, was relegated to the sideline.
And then there were the media handlers. National Party stalwarts bitterly complain that their Prime Ministers make their best speeches only when conceding power and so it proved with Bill English.
In person, he is an attractive, intelligent character with a normal Kiwi drawl. But his advisers had him pumped up to convey aggressiveness and leadership and he simply appeared unreal, especially when he resorted to slogans and fatuous soundbites. He should have recognised that this sort of campaigning is stupid.
Winston Peters ran a very effective campaign, playing on fears about immigration. It had some surreal moments such as when he addressed a hall full of sceptical Chinese and claimed that although he is Maori, his ancestors have DNA which can be traced back to an obscure tribe who lived in a mountainous region somewhere in China.
An anthropologist responded that no one had ever heard of this particular tribe.
Defence as an issue simply didn't surface. Winston Peters, when he was in coalition with the National Government led by Jenny Shipley, pressured her against buying the third ANZAC frigate, much to the chagrin of Canberra.
Bill English was asked during the campaign whether if elected he would move to rescind the ban on visits by US nuclear-powered warships. He responded that the ban was here to stay.
Meanwhile, during the run up to election day, the Air Force announced that none of its C130 Hercules was currently available for operational flying that week, due to excessive age and maintenance requirements.