Wellington, October 15,2023
General Election 2023 ended with New Zealanders voting for change over continuity.
Three-and-a-half hours after polling closed at 7pm on Saturday, Chris Hipkins drove to the Labour Party headquarters in Wellington’s Hutt South to concede that, on the prevailing polling figures, the Labour Party was not in a position to form a government.
Shortly after, Christopher Luxon emerged from his Remuera home in Auckland and headed for the city’s Central Business District to deliver his victory speech.
The National Party leader was gracious in triumph, acknowledging that it was a “tough day” for Hipkins.
That was a courteous understatement.
The election saw red strongholds topple like dominoes across the country, leaving Labour Party stalwarts either unseated or barely holding on to their seats.
The night closed with National sitting at 50 seats and its alliance partner ACT with 11 seats.
The Labour Party was down to 34 seats in the new Parliamentary setting, having bled its votes to the Greens and Te Pati Maori (TPM), who were at 14 and 4, respectively.
But the perceived disruptor in the general election, the New Zealand First Party, saw a somewhat anticlimactic outcome. Winston Peters, who fancied himself as kingmaker, was in Parliament but not in government, at least for now. The National Party was comfortably placed to form a government in partnership with ACT.
But Peters made a conciliatory move by offering his help, if needed. National’s Luxon was quick to accept Peter’s extended hand.
The big surprise of the evening was the strong showing by the Maori Party, which improved its tally to four seats. Its voting pattern reflected an intergenerational shift in Maori voters disenchanted with the Labour-Maori caucus. Maori Party leader Rawiri Waititi saw his party “maturing to the MMP” process. The party was drawing voters 40-years-old and younger.
A grim footnote of the election was that not a single Kiwi Indian candidate won an electorate seat.
The emphatic wins recorded by the Greens masked the fact that the party, which had three ministers while it was part of the Labour government, had lost its influence overall, now that it was in the Opposition.
Often described as a water melon party that was green on the outside and red on the inside, the Green Party saw its left-of-centre role take a pounding in this election.
The Greens are hamstrung by their climate-centric agenda, which denies it the flexibility to work with parties such as National and ACT.
In that sense, NZ First is the true amphibian of New Zealand politics, an all-terrain party open to alignments based on expediency.
This election has thrown up some imponderables for the future. It has certainly plunged the Labour Party into a crisis of leadership. Hipkins has been left hobbled after leading the party to an ignominious election defeat.
No one doubts Hipkins has had a horrendous run, taking on the mantle left by Jacinda Ardern and inheriting the damage caused by a conspiracy of factors such as adverse weather events, a terrorist attack, and the Covid pandemic.
But politics is unforgiving. And though Hipkins listed his woes in his concession speech last night, the search for a new leader will be under way within the party in the days ahead.
Luxon has swept to power on the back of a wave of promises, which includes providing tax relief for poor and middle-income New Zealanders and making the country a safer place.
But once the euphoria of victory wears off, New Zealand’s 42nd prime minister will need to “get the country back on track.”
But first, Luxon has to source the funds to back his fiscal plans. Or else, he risks being seen as a purveyor of sleight-of-hand economics, rather than an agent of real change.
Venu Menon is an Indian Newslink reporter based in Wellington