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The Key factor for National hat trick

On the face of it, the general election, due to be held on September 20, 2014, could have a foregone conclusion.

The economy is ticking along well, our finances are expected to move to surplus during the current fiscal year, rising business confidence may lead to job creation bringing down the rate of unemployment and the general mood of the nation is positive. So why bother changing the Government?

Politics does not function on intuitions and people do not vote for a party or a candidate just because opinion polls appear favourable. There have been upsets at polls in the past with favourites sent to the opposition and hence there is no room for complacency.

The National Party will campaign on its strong economic performance, management of growth rather than recession, achieving higher education standards, improving delivery of health services, rebuilding Christchurch and a host of other issues.

Charismatic leader

But the single important factor that would influence the voting public is the charismatic leadership of John Key. According to his supporters, he has held the office of the Prime Minister since assuming office in November 2008 with dignity and honour, not failing to punish his erring ministers or members of Parliament. Like his predecessor, Mr Key has been engaging closely with New Zealanders, meeting and greeting them at formal and informal events, festivals and social and cultural gatherings.

The size of a country and its ability to punch above its weight is often a determinant on the global scene in gaining attention and response. On such a score, Mr Key has been able to establish synergy with diverse leadership across the world. He is as much at home discussing the ways and means of furthering trade ties with Chinese President Xi Jinping as he was with US President Barack Obama in Washington DC and at international meetings.

New Zealand continues to score high on the world map as a reliable, well-meaning and honest friend, and its impressive status of being the least corrupt country on the Corruption Perception Index of Transparency International (although perception can be divorced from facts) is a source of endearment for international businesses and investors.

Transparent governance

But none of these would cut ice with New Zealanders who are largely unimpressed by grandeur. What matters to them is good and firm leadership, sound fiscal management, policies and programmes that promote a higher standard of living and most important of all, clean and transparent governance.

The economy is not likely to pose any serious challenges to Mr Key if voters entrust him with the country for the third term. According to the latest Consensus Forecast of the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research, the economy will grow strongly over the next two years and economic growth will pick up from 2.9% in the March 2014 year to 3.6% the following year.

Christchurch challenge

Christchurch, which was rocked by earthquakes and aftershocks in 2010 and 2011, could pose a serious challenge to Mr Key. Despite the Government’s announcement of a multi-billion dollar rebuild programme, gloom is still in the air. There are complaints of delays in insurance payouts and government repair grants, and bickering continues over the future of beloved buildings, including the ruined Anglican cathedral.

But there are grounds for optimism too. Demolition of the City Centre is advancing, and in 2014 progress will be made on a new inner hub making the most of green spaces along the Avon River. The Government has promised ‘precincts’ devoted to health, technology and culture, and big projects including a convention centre and a stadium.

The MMP syndrome

Eight parties sit in New Zealand’s unicameral Parliament, three of them in league with the National Party, which in 2011 won 59 seats, two shy of a majority. Since 1996, when the country adopted mixed-member proportional representation, no party has governed alone.

The outcome of elections is always daunted by uncertainties even in the case of ‘sure win’ feelings within the Party and the country. Mr Key highlighted the problem that he may face in forming the next Government post September 20.

Our system of proportional representation, like that of Germany always leaves destiny in the hands of a third party, who may hold the balance of power. It is also a fact that such a party may hold a record for prevarication.

With the Greens getting together with Labour and with the position of the Maori Party unclear, New Zealand First Leader Winston Peters may become the Kingmaker.

As Mr Key said, “It could be a very complex environment. And if New Zealand First holds the balance of power, goodness knows how long it will take him to decide what he’s going to do.”

Although voters appear to be tilting towards a third term for the National Party, its options for political partners are more limited. Mr Key would therefore have to try and win more seats in order to form a majority Government and implement his electoral promises.

It is in this context that the members of the Indian community would become a significant voting machine. Although small in number, they can be a decisive factor in this year’s election.

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