A Very Dodgy Primer to NZ Elections
For a more informative primer (i.e. a real one) you may want to stop reading now and head here. For the rest of you who couldn’t give a toss – read on …
New Zealand is a constitutional monarchy (our current Governor General is a second gen, Fijian Indian) and our Government is separated into three branches: the executive, the legislature (parliament) and the judiciary. We don’t have a written constitution but we do have constitutional documents including the Treaty of Waitangi, the Declaration of Independence and a whole heap of other flotsam and jetsam that we inherited from the British. We were first in the world to give women the vote, but possibly only because the government at the time rationalised it as actually giving men two votes. We have two electoral rolls – the general role and the Maori roll. If you are of Maori descent (the indigenous peoples of NZ) then you can choose which one you go on – the Maori seats guarantee that Maori have a voice in Parliament (but as with all electoral seats, whether that’s actually true or not depends on the candidate). We still vote with pen and paper and not with sheep … if I told you that we did and you believed me, then … seriously, you believed me? What is wrong with you?
We used to have First Past the Post (one vote per person, person with the most votes wins) but we didn’t like that system as technically a party could win the popular vote overall, but still end up losing the election overall as it only came down to how many electorates they won. So we voted to change it to Mixed Member Proportional (MMP – two votes, one for the candidate you like and one for the party you prefer). The difference worked out like this: under FPP, Governments could rush through whatever Bills they wanted to, changing the country overnight … under MMP, it takes them a freakin’ age to do anything. Also, election nights are not as much fun as they used to be, knowing who will be the Government can take weeks (and make you even more cynical with the whole political process as anyone who voted Green at the last election will tell you).
Simplifying everything into left and right … there are two dominant parties in Parliment: National (under John Keys vaguely centerist right) and Labour (under Helen Clark also vaguely centerist but a touch to the left of National … sometimes … sometimes not). They would like you to believe that there are stark differences between the two, but it’s only the start of the year and already we’re hearing the complaints of ‘hey we came up with that policy first’.
Labour is unique in that it gave birth to two other political parties, formed by discontented members of their cabinet and caucus – ACT (very right wing and almost dead in the water with only one MP in Parliament) and Alliance (very left wing and very much dead in the water having stupidly usurped their leader Jim Anderton, the only party member with a strong electoral seat in Wigram – and if Mark Cleary ever reads this, yes Mark, I can hear you screaming obscenities at me from here!).
Thanks to the joys of MMP there are also six other minor parties in Parliament:
Greens (to the left, to the left) – does what it says on the box. Which sounds boring. And yes, they are. They keep their noses clean, they are frighteningly without a cynical bone in their collective body and therefore very naive about the down and dirty dealings of politics … for this, they will always suffer.
ACT (to the right, to the right) – yes, it really was formed by three former cabinet Ministers of the Labour party as well as a former Labour activist … and yes, they all believe in the joys of free markets and the small, tiny, minuscule Government … bet you didn’t see that coming … hell, neither did the party faithful who voted Labour in 1984. Now reduced to one MP – Rodney Hide, best known for appearing on Dancing with the Stars and dropping his dance partner on the head.
Progressives (to the … er … left, but not so much to the left that you wouldn’t let me be in Government with you Helen) – Jim Anderton. That’s it. What do they stand for? Er … Jim Anderton?
UnitedFuture (the party of Ohariu-Belmont) – Well, it used to be Peter Dunne and a bunch of Christian conservatives … those folks have now split and it’s just Peter Dunne. Because for some reason beyond me the good voters of Ohariu-Belmont keep voting him in. Why? Hell, the rest of Wellington has been wondering that for years.
Maori Party (to the … um … actually … you’ve never said) – Founded to be the voice of Maori after the creation of the Foreshore and Seabed Act. It’s not really a party but a collection of individuals, who don’t seem to stick to the party line … if there is a party line. Which brings me to who do the Maori party represent? Are they left, are they right? Co Leader, Tariana Turia, has oft said that the Maori Party would be happy to be in Government with either National or Labour … interesting as National have traditionally campaigned on abolishing the Maori electoral seats (where their power base comes from) and that in the Maori electorates, while candidate votes in the main went to the Maori Party the majority of party votes were going to Labour …
New Zealand First (to the people who say ‘it wasn’t as good as it was back in my day’ … and then to whomever will make me a Minister) – Winston Peters, beloved by rednecks, the elderly and horse racing enthusiasts, manages to whip up an Enoch Powell like frenzy (oh for god’s sakes – look it up!) around any minority whom he sets his sights on. For his efforts, Labour rewarded him with coalition partnership and made him Minister for Foreign Affairs … yes … the guy who regularly rants against immigrants of yellow and brown hues is now our International Man of Mystery … we’re all still wondering why … especially as the Trade portfolio is with Phil Goff, what the hell does Winston do?
So there are the bare osteoporosic bone basics. Any questions are welcome, so long as you know that you will not get an informative or even correct answer from me – that’s what Google is for …