Fri Nov 25th, 2011 at 04:20:18 PM EST
Here are some personal notes on this weekend's election.
Anyone interested in the mechanics of the thing, and in following results, can check out the Wikipedia entry.
Don't bother with the NZ online press, unless you're extremely enthusiastic, as it is pretty much incomprehensible, even to an expatriate like me, but here it is :
Just to kill any suspense :
the polls are unequivocal.
National (Tories, centre-right) are certain to be returned, with an increased majority, and probably with an absolute majority in parliament : this would be a first since the switch to mixed-member proportional voting in 1996 (National currently lead a three-party coalition).
The big news, from my point of view, is the breakthrough in the Green vote : currently with 9 MPs in the parliament of 120, from 6.5 percent of the vote in the 2008 election, seem likely to double the score.
New Zealand seems to have found its daddy in John Key. His appeal, and the man himself, are a complete mystery to me. Former head of foreign exchange at Merril Lynch.
I'll continue adding notes to this diary as they occur to me. Just now, I'm going to fax my vote, having downloaded it before dinner.
My own political history began with Labour, in the early 1980s. This was the time of the silly old English first-past-the-post system, there were no other options on the table for me. In 1981, I worked for Labour's first openly gay candidate, in a marginal seat. We lost by a couple of hundred votes, and Labour lost the election despite outpolling National. I presided the Labour youth organisation for a while (though "organisation" is probably an overstatement), and in 1984 I was campaign manager for an electorate, in which ... we ... came ... fourth! No mean achievement, in what was still basically a two-party system, in a year when our party won by a landslide. (The electorate was one of two won by the third party, Social Credit. They had polled as high as 20% nationally in 1981, but never won more than two seats.)
Shortly after this I left the country, for personal reasons, but I was already full of foreboding. A struggle over economic policy had occurred in the Labour party before the election, and we had lost: a bunch of neo-liberals seized power in an internal coup, and proceeded to gut the economy (NZ was briefly a poster child for the Chicago school, but then quickly dropped out of sight when it became obvious that it didn't actually work).
I came back to NZ in 1999, and was somewhat confused as to my political allegiance. Labour was out of the question. Most of my associates from the 80s had left the party to form New Labour, which, with the arrival of proportional representation in 1996, formed an alliance with the Greens (and with Social Credit!). This Alliance Party would seem to be my natural home (during the 90s, I had joined the French Green party), but in 1999 the Greens had split from the Alliance to run in their own right.
I disapproved of the split, because the Greens seemed unlikely to make the 5% threshold. I nevertheless joined the party. I was proved right on election night, when we got stuck on 4.9%... but when overseas votes were counted, a couple of weeks later, we tipped over the threshold, and also won an electorate seat (which, in the NZ system, removes the threshold... this is a controversial feature and may well be scrapped in future).
I left NZ again in 2000, but stayed somewhat active in the Green Party for a while (I managed the membership database, and wrote the first content management system, since replaced, for the web site).
And now, I feel like a foreigner.
The Green breakthrough in this election (if it eventuates) has the potential to be a real game-changer. Labour is at a low ebb, and shows no obvious signs of revitalizing. However, it has come at the cost of a transformation of the party itself, somewhat like the German greens I suppose : seen by some as a betrayal of the activist base, in the outreach to the middle class.
Meanwhile, this has opened up an opportunity on the left. Since the demise of the Alliance in 2002 (they had been in coalition with Labour, but resigned from government over the issue of sending troops to Afghanistan, and didn't make it back into parliament), the Greens had been in the somewhat uncomfortable position of being the only party to the left of Labour. But this may change tomorrow.
This leads me to the complicated proposition of explaining the Maori seats. They are something of a historical oddity; and when combined with MMP, it opens up some interesting possibilities.
When New Zealand's parliament was founded in the mid 19th century, white settlers were fewer than the indigenous Maori. In order to preserve a veneer of democracy while avoiding the real thing, reserved seats were instituted for the natives (four out of 80). In the 20th century, these seats were generally the property of the Labour party, but in the MMP era the situation has been quite fluid. Currently there are 7 reserved Maori seats out of 120. In 2008, the Maori Party won 5 seats, but controversially entered coalition with National. One of its MPs, who is sure to ve returned in his Maori electorate, rebelled and formed the Mana Party, which has been joined by historic figures of the left... including one former Green MP. So it's quite possible that, although they won't reach the 5% threshold, they may get 2 or 3 members.
So anyway... I voted. There is a referendum about the voting system; the right have been working hard to get MMP abolished, but the current system seems certain to be retained (I voted to retain it). I voted the Green national list, and hesitated a few minutes over the electorate vote. I am registered in the Auckland Central electorate, a traditional Labour seat which switched to National at the last election. Under MMP, this doesn't change the overall balance of power; and personally I don't have any use for a local MP. Voting for the Green candidate would be of only symbolic use. And it turns out that the Labour candidate is the girlfriend of an old mate from the Labour youth wing.