Full Disclosure: I’m an American immigrant woman living and working in New Zealand. I learned about this MMP political system with the help of my Kiwi husband, friends, colleagues and living in Aotearoa aka New Zealand. I don’t know every minutia about MMP or New Zealand’s political historical context compared to that trainwreck of the American electoral college system. These are just my observations based on what I know or have observed for my friends and family back in the US as a learning opportunity. So gentle reader, if you gonna correct me, please be kind so they learn too.
In New Zealand, candidates are only allowed 3 months prior to Election day to campaign. I can’t imagine what the US Presidential race would be if campaigning was only 3 months! During that time, candidates go all over the country, talking about their party’s platform or policies, pressing the flesh and taking selfies. They debate each other several times, buy ad space on billboards and social media, put lawn signs up everywhere, stand on the street corner waving to people driving by in their car for honks.
And then, they take it all down by midnight the night before Election Day or face penalties by way of fines and public derision.
On the day of the election, no campaigning. No one should reveal whom they voted for or to tell others whom to vote for in social media. They can only say — Go Vote.
Parliament has 120 minister seats. A candidate is voted directly into a seat by winning an electorate or being placed on a prioritised party list. The group that wins a simple majority of at least 61 seats wins the right to rule the NZ government, pick its Prime Minister and make policies that affect everything in a free, capitalistic and democratic society. This group is a coalition between a major party and several minor parties to work together as a voting block and share governing responsibilities.
A candidate gets into Parliament either by winning an electorate via direct vote, or by the percentage of the party vote, with the minimum percentage of 5%.
As an enrolled voter, I have about week to go to any voting station to cast two votes. One for the minister in my district and one for a political party. That’s it. An unregistered person can rock up to a voting station, enrol AND vote in the same day. Those vote are counted after the general election.
The Major Political Parties
There are two major parties and several minor parties — the National Party (Center Right — Blue) and the Labour Party (Center Left — Red). By the way, the National Party is left of the Democratic Party in the US. What they have in common is that they both are Corporatist parties.
The Nats are led by the Finance Minister-cum-PM – Elder statesman, Bill English. He’s smart, calculating, staid, “male and pale”, very experienced in government and has a penchant for numbers. He took over the PM role, when John Key left Dec 2016 to return to the private sector. He likes to snapchat his walk-run adventures like all the cool kids, except me because I’m not that cool.
A typical National constituent seems to be affluent or upper & middle class white people in professional or commercial business occupations, mostly live in the “country” or new immigrants of people of colour, who are small business owners and socially conservative.
The Labour Party is led by a charismatic, intelligent woman in her prime named Lucinda Ardern. She ascended into the leadership role, 7 weeks ago after some churning by several white male leaders of the party for the past several years. People are drawn to her as she effuses energy, caring and empathy. She’s fresh and approachable.
Labour constituents seems to be the urban working class, the working poor, some middle class from a union background, NZ people of colour eg Maori and Pacific islander.
The Nats won the mandate by getting 46% of the 2,169,802 votes casted. They have 58 seats in Parliament and need 3 seats for the 61 seat threshold. Labour received 35.8% or 45 seats. “Technically” no party has a majority, but the Nats are feeling good about themselves.
However, I think the Labour party should feel good as well. If Lucinda had been their party leader as long as Bill English has been for National, the outcome would be different. But Labour did a great job winning head-to-head contests against the Maori party, decimating National’s coalition partner.
The Minor Political Parties
New Zealand First has 7.5% — 9 seats. They are lead by, Winston Peters, who reminds me of that singer Tom Jones because he’s got a bit of swagger on him and is loved by alot of the senior NZ ladies. He’s a small ‘c’ conservative compared to National’s big ‘C’ conservatism. NZ1st can be described as “Kiwi’s first before immigrants; pull yourself up without handouts; No special entitlements or privileges just because you’re First Peoples — I’m talking to you Maori” and they are big with the AARP crowd. But they also believe that the retirement age should not be raised, people should have good healthcare, education, and as far as I can tell, is not too wrapped up if you’re gay or straight or like cats.
There’s also the NZ Greens which stands by typical progressive ideas like ending poverty, a clean environment, decriminalise and legalise cannabis, and gender equality. They have a dual leadership paradigm with a female and a male as party co leaders. They have 5.9% — 7 seats. The Greens normally work with the Labour Party.
Then there’s one seat for the Libertarian leaning ACT party, whose leader, David Seymour reminds me of Rimmer from ‘Red Dwarf.” He won that seat with a measly 0.5% of the vote because this seat comes from a gerrymandered electorate that gives too much weight to each of the 11,000+ people that voted for him, while casting their party vote to National. This one seat of ACT will work with the National Party.
So this is where it stands:
National/Act — 59 seats
Labour/Green — 52 seats
With no clear majority of 61 out of 120 seats.
Next steps is to count over 300K special votes — those are the votes from overseas voters, same day voting, or voting in another electorate in NZ. And then, New Zealand First gets to decide if we get more of the same and hopefully better by going with National/Act, or something different and perhaps better with Labour/Greens. I think it’s really up to Winston Peters and what he wants to do with his legacy.
Life under National
My husband says Bill English is boring and uninspiring as a leader for New Zealand. I think he’s no different that most middle aged, privileged, white men in the US Republican party, except he more reality based with things like facts (well except when he was fibbing about Labour raising taxes). As far as I can tell, National didn’t obstruct NZ adoption of gay marriage (although they didn’t initiate it) and they seem ‘ok’ with the niceties of a polite society such as healthcare for all and educating children, taking care of the elderly and such.
Under National’s John Key/Bill English nine years, NZ went through the 2008 global recession pretty quickly due to isolation (and outcomes from Helen Clarke’s Labour tenure). They dealt with two major incidents — the Pike River mine collapse and the devastating earthquakes in Christchurch. They have increased the wages of workers in eldercare. I’m sure the Nats have a list of other accomplishments, but I wonder if this is how little they really affected my daily life. We’re told the economy is great, so great that we will get a $1000 tax break…around an extra $20 a week.
However, under National’s tenure, New Zealand has seen:
- Increase in poverty especially child poverty. Ms Ardern managed to get Bill English promise to taking 50K children out of poverty, NEXT YEAR. Why not now? Today?
- Increased homelessness. Everywhere I go in Auckland and Wellington, I am seeing more people living on the street. For a prosperous country, why do I see people living in doorways? Auckland has around 24,000 people who cannot find a flat. They are probably living out of their cars or hotel rooms.
- The cost of living has skyrocketed, transportation, housing, food is expensive, especially good food and they tax it 15% GST. I tell people, New Zealand is a very nice place to live, if you can afford it.
- Lack of affordable housing for the average person can’t afford to buy a home in Auckland unless they pony up 20% deposit and that can be at least $200,000 depending on the suburb. I have friends moving out to other places like Katikati or Napier so they can buy a home and raise their families.
- More people in prison, especially for nonviolent drug crimes *cough cough* cannabis. National sticks their head in the ground about medical cannabis. The research is out there Bill!
- More people dying from synthetic drugs.
- Increased gender inequality especially where the top 50 NZ company CEO’s all white men.
- Wage stagnation for the service and working class industries and wealth accumulation with the affluent from the knowledge capital industries. Psst, NZ has no capital gains tax (GOP ultimate dream)
- Tarnished 100% Pure New Zealand brand because our rivers are polluted like Flint Michigan, and like Michigan state government, I haven’t seen National do a damn thing about it.
- Little to lukewarm policies to combat global warming, National likes to spend money on roads, but very little on solving transportation and public transit. I see little to no policy on solar power or anything to support electric cars. However, I see alot more hybrids and electric cars.
- Increased mental health issues and healthcare in general. This is no joke! Believe it or not, New Zealand has high suicide rates. The health minister does nothing.
Now I don’t really dislike National (nor like Labour) per se, they’re not like the hypocritical, cynical, spineless G.O.P. of the US, who traded their values and cater to the US corporate class on the backs of white supremacists. I just find that National are all dollars and cents but no common sense to the plight of the ‘average’ kiwi. They seem to lack empathy toward the poor, are tragically reactive to pressing issues like Auckland’s housing issue nor think outside the box. They approach everything the same way and offer very little vision. And as for bragging that New Zealand is doing so well economically, why hasn’t National used our tax money to tackle some of our really big problems? I think that is why my husband thinks they are boring.
I know alot of people are disappointed that we didn’t get change election night. I hope New Zealand First thinks what they can accomplish for New Zealands and with whom. Who knows, they might surprise us. Whatever happens, the citizens of New Zealand need to holds the government to account. Look out there in the world, we deserve a better government for our needs.
So Winston… do the right thing.