Government formation: Luxon wary of pushing the pace


Luxon needs to keep Seymour and Peters from “sorting out” one another around the Cabinet table ( Photo INL)

Venu Menon
Wellington, November 6,2023

With the release of the official results on November 3, the kaleidoscopic shift in the post-election scenario has seen the National Party, the frontrunner in forming New Zealand’s next coalition government, emerge with a diminished seat tally and forced to shed its poll-eve inhibition of transacting with New Zealand First to secure a governing majority in the 54th Parliament.

The counting of special votes was underpinned by the vague hope that National and ACT could sustain their narrow majority beyond election night on October 14.

With National winning 50 seats and Act 11, the two parties had a governing majority in a 121-seat Parliament.

But, after the special votes were counted, the surprises inherent in the MMP system changed the profile of Parliament, with National losing two seats and dropping to 48 and the Te Pati Māori’s results causing an “overhang” (by the party gaining two more seats beyond its entitlement as per its percentage of the party vote) in an expanded Parliament of 123 seats.

The new poll arithmetic has catapulted NZ First to the centre stage of New Zealand politics. Winston Peters has become the man of the moment, yet again.

But his positioning in 2023 is not a facsimile of the kingmaker role he played in 2017 and 1996. His party’s eight seats will not give Peters leverage over ACT leader David Seymour, whose party has 11 seats in Parliament.

Political pundits are apt to see Peters as the corrective force of NZ politics, a balancing presence that ensures the pendulum does not swing too far to the left under Labour or to the right under National.

In that sense, Peters is somewhat of a renaissance figure in NZ politics, commanding renewed and seasonal interest among voters wary of the need to moderate the policies of the major parties.

The recounting of votes in the marginal seats is not likely to disturb the overall picture of the seating arrangement in the 54th Parliament.

The Green Party have a record tally of 15 seats while Te Pati Māori surpassed expectations by winning six of the seven Māori seats.

But managing the chemistry between Seymour and Peters, and the gravitational pull of their respective party policies, will engage National’s Prime Minister-elect Christopher Luxon in the coalition talks that lie ahead.

The policy pronouncements that animated the pre-election debates give an inkling of the particular areas of interest of each of the leaders.

Seymour has been vocal about law and order, downsizing the bureaucracy and streamlining expenditure. He has also called for a referendum on the Treaty (which Luxon has described as “divisive”). His party will be eyeing portfolios related to these areas.

NZ First will be looking to take Peters’ crackdown on the “duopoly” of the retail banks and supermarkets into a government role, in addition to the widely anticipated bid to oversee foreign affairs.

An area of convergence for Luxon, Seymour and Peters is the war on patches. All three are committed to a robust policy of incarceration for gang-related crime.

But first, Luxon needs to ensure that the mutual pre-election threats sounded by Seymour and Peters to “sort out” one another around the Cabinet table does not become a self-fulfilling prophesy.

Coalition talks are yet to shift gears and gain pace. Luxon appears to be in no rush. Instead, perhaps overly conscious of the muted animosities simmering between his coalition partners, he would prefer to allow reasonable time for choppy waters to settle before negotiations pick up steam.

Venu Menon is an Indian Newslink reporter based in Wellington

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