Our Leader in Indian Newslink Digital Edition dated December 1, 2023
Auckland, December 2, 2023
Strange bedfellows have made it again to the Beehive.
Three political parties- National, ACT and New Zealand First, with divergent views on core issues, have agreed to come together to form a new government in Wellington. Their Ministers were sworn in by Governor General Dame Cindy Kiro at the Government House on Monday, November 27, 2023.
There is a Prime Minister (Christopher Luxon) and a Deputy- the latter on a time-share basis with Winston Peters, the oldest of them of all going in first with the mantle of Foreign Affairs on his shoulders. ACT Leader David Seymour will take over that mantle on June 1, 2025 as the government crosses its halfway mark.
The first Cabinet meeting got off with a rocky start and judging by the comments of Mr Peters about the media to the media, we can expect political combustion from time to time. Mr Luxon may have to bring to bear his firefighting skills to keep the cabinet boat afloat.
There have been concessions on the policies front- but before that, the contention that it is always difficult to navigate a political ship with three different policy fronts is somewhat true. And given that Mr Luxon and his National Party are far from governing on their own, make both vulnerable. As Matthew Hooton, a former National Party insider said, it should not be allowed to descend into a coalition of chaos.
About the MMP System
The proverbial 19th-century saying that political alliances in a common cause may bring together those of widely differing views- widely referred to as the Strange Bedfellows has once again come true in New Zealand.
Compare that with the saying that adversity makes strange bedfellows, and you will get the scenes in Germany, the Netherlands and other parts of the democratic world where people have returned a hung Parliament, forcing politicians of opposite camps to sit together on a round table.
This the not the first time that such a political partnership has come about in New Zealand’s polity, under the precarious and often confusing Mixed Member Proportion (MMP) system.
In the post-Second World War period in New Zealand, under the First-Past-The-Post electoral system, the level of disproportionality was 11%. This is a measure of the disparity between the share of seats won by political parties and the share of votes they received.
The New Zealand figure was high by international standards.
In the first eight MMP elections in New Zealand (from 1996 to 2017), no single party won more than half the seats in Parliament. All the governments formed under MMP since 1996 had been coalition governments – more often than not, minority governments (with less than 50% of the seats in Parliament) reliant on the support of one or more. At the same time, however, every MMP government was led by one of the two major parties: National (1996-1999 and 2008-2017) and Labour (1999-2008, 2017-2020). In 2020, Labour won 65 of the 120 seats and could have governed alone but chose to give the Green Party co-leaders ministerial positions.
While New Zealand governments have not been quite as strong under MMP as they were in the first-past-the-post era, they have not been unstable.
The Referendum in 2011
The National-led government formed in 2008 had a policy of allowing New Zealanders to review the voting system. As a result, on 26 November 2011, the country held its third referendum on voting systems. As in 1992, the referendum posed two questions: (1) Should New Zealand keep the Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) voting system? (2) If New Zealand were to change to another voting system, which system would you choose?
The first of four options following the second question was the First-Past-The-Post voting system, which New Zealand had until 1996. The other three options had also been on the voting paper in the 1992 Referendum. They were (a) Preferential Voting (b) Single Transferable Vote (c) Supplementary Member. Nearly 58% of those who voted in the Referendum cast a valid vote in favour of keeping MMP. Unlike in 1992, this meant there was no follow-up Referendum.
New Zealanders had endorsed the Proportional Representation System for parliamentary elections.
Adjusting to Coalition demands
If the politics of coalition is giving more and taking less or nothing, Mr Luxon and Mr Seymour have conceded some major policies to Mr Peters. Two proposals have already been dropped- to allow foreign buyers back into our already overheated housing market and to raise the retirement age to 67. While the standoff between the ACT and New Zealand Party Leaders was settled by the half-time Deputy Prime Minister’s role, some say that it is a hallmark of discard.
Mr Seymour had campaigned strongly on curbing the growing indigenous Maori influence and power in the country’s governance by pushing for a national Referendum on the future of the 183-year-old Treaty of Waitangi. But that Referendum will be on hold since there is a fear of community backlash.
The Maori Party has won six electoral seats- unprecedented in its history – in addition to which there could be strong opposition within the Caucuses of National and NZ First for a Referendum.
Legislation on Smoking burnt
Mr Luxon’s announcement (soon after being sworn in as the Prime Minister) that his government will scrap the so-called, ‘Anti-Smoking Law,’ effecting a ban on the next generation smoking to fund tax cuts has raised debate in the international media.
The world’s first generational anti-smoking policy took effect 11 months ago under New Zealand’s former Labour government, which was ousted in an election on October 14. The new government has repealed the ban on selling or supplying smoked tobacco products to people born on or after January 1, 2009. But the government, will ban disposable e-cigarettes and increase penalties for illegal tobacco sales to those aged under 18.
Former Health Minister Dr Ayesha Verrall took a dig at her successor (National’s) Dr Shane Reti, also a General Practitioner. “What a way to start being a Health Minister, by caving into the tobacco industry! Repealing smoke-free laws will mean thousands of deaths and billions of health costs,” she said during a media briefing.
Rishi Sunak, Britain’s Prime Minister, who announced a similar ban in his country, stubbed out a suggestion to follow suit.
Relations with China and India
The rest of the 49-Point Plan is not likely to raise eyebrows since they were all a part of the election campaigns of the three parties and do not conflict with each other.
On foreign relations, New Zealand is expected to maintain its close stand with China a strategy initiated by Helen Clark during her tenure as the Prime Minister (1999 to 2008) and cemented by her successor John Key (2008-2016). This may have vexed New Zealand’s allies in the ‘Five Eyes’ Western countries security network but has not created any serious rifts.
New Zealand would have to work its way into India, which would involve a complexity of issues.
More on this later but for now, we wish the new government well.
No one wants to see the pain of another election next year.