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Daniel Paul, our man in New Zealand, gives his take on the Kiwi political marriage of convenience

Wow!  What a shambles.

Almost a month after the general election, New Zealand finally has a government - a new Labour, NZ First coalition with the Greens offering confidence.

What’s odd about that?  Well a politician, Winston Peters, who couldn't even hold his own seat at this election, and whose Party got just over seven percent of the vote (with no electorate seats), held both major parties to ransom.

He has spent the last three and a bit weeks wheeling and dealing with both the incumbent National party and the Labour opposition until he got the best deal – for Winston and NZ First, according to many.

Winston’s been in this position before and famously said at the time (the 2005 election) he didn’t want ‘the baubles of office’, only to accept the plum role of Foreign Affairs Minister in a previous Labour collation.

This time it looks like he’s ‘negotiated’ himself the deputy PM’s job, similar to what he ‘accepted’ when he joined a National coalition in 1996 (he became deputy PM and Treasurer).

Winston took to national prime time TV on October 19 to hold a presser at which he ‘announced’ his choice and anointed Jacinda Ardern our new prime minister.  But he hadn’t bothered to tell her or incumbent PM, Bill English, before making his call on live TV.

Now we have a wafer-slim majority coalition, led by a hugely inexperienced 37-year-old who, until 11 weeks ago, did not even lead her own party, and concocted by Winston Peter, the wily puppet-strong puller who is NZ’s longest-serving current MP.

This is the third time in Winston’s colourful 30+ year political career he’s been in this situation and, like the last times, he has milked it for all it’s worth.

The media has hung on his every word.  He’s been on every media platform available, every day, for the last three weeks while his caucus and his party’s board (the members of which he refuses to name) considered their options post-election.

So basically, Winston and his nine MPs (of whom no one has really heard) and his anonymous board members (none of who is a politician) have decided the political fate of New Zealanders for the next three years.

Democracy at its best.  Not.

National was the biggest winner with 44.6 percent of the vote after specials were counted.  The Labour/Green coalition secured a combined 43.2 percent.  Winston’s NZ First won just 7.2 percent of the vote – 186,706 votes out of a total of 2,591,896.

But while the election’s outcome is frustrating, the campaign itself was great sport.

First, we had the co-Leader of the Green Party, left wing MP, Metiria Turei, openly admitting to benefit fraud when she was younger (claiming entitlements she wasn’t entitled to as a solo Mum).  She claimed her revelation during the campaign was to spotlight the plight of Kiwi beneficiaries.

It was a poorly-thought out ploy that eventually cost her her Parliamentary career as she was forced to resign as co-Leader and as an MP after the media started digging into her background.

They found her story of being a struggling single mother who had to defraud the system to put food on the table was, umm … lacking in a degree of accuracy.

They also found she had committed electoral fraud – claiming a false address so she could vote for a mate standing in another electorate.  Oops.

So now the Green Party has just one leader.

Then we had ‘Jacindamania’, when the leader of the badly-polling Labour Party, Andrew Little, stepped down at the start of the campaign and young, attractive, empathetic Jacinda Ardern took the reins.

Labour went from a deathbed polling of around 24 percent (a level at which its then leader, Little, probably would not have been returned to Parliament on the Labour list) to early 30s overnight (they made 35.8 percent on the night).

Suddenly Labour was a contender again.  Jacinda’s photo was everywhere and all the pundits were saying she was a good bet for being our next Prime Minister.  She might still take that role if Peters favours her.

Then we had the feminist outrage caused by the leader of The Opportunities Party (TOP), well-known economist, multi-millionaire and cat-hater, Gareth Morgan, who referred to Labour’s leadership change as “putting lipstick on a pig”.

Boy, did that spark a talkback frenzy.  Gareth, who needed media attention for his fledgling Party, promptly called a presser to defend his comments and suggested it was a common expression like “polishing a turd”.  Hmm.  Quit digging, Gareth.

Anyway, Gareth’s TOP Party failed to reach the necessary five percent threshold of votes required to secure a Parliamentary place under our MMP system.  As did the Maori Party which has been a vital support Party to National for several elections now and which, supposedly was the voice of Iwi in New Zealand.

Note that 15 percent of Kiwis are Maori and ‘their Party’ managed just 1.1 percent of the vote.  Not sure what that actually means but it’s interesting.

Now the media is claiming this election was a “bloodbath” for the minor Parties.  ACT, another minor Party and a support partner for National, generated just 0.5 percent and only returned because National did its usual deal in the Epsom electorate to gift ACT’s leader that seat.

The Greens fell from 11.4 percent last time to just 5.9 percent this time.  United Future’s leader and sole MP, Peter Dunne, one of the longest-servicing MPs in the current Parliament after Winston Peters, resigned during the campaign and that ended United Future’s future.

Quite what the next three years will bring is anyone’s guess. 
 
Daniel Paul is Managing Director of The PR Company, a Wellington-based government relations and strategic communications company. Daniel has worked regularly on projects with the Wells Haslem Mayhew team over many years.