I shouldnt think anybody gets their news about New Zealand from this blog and has been waiting on tenterhooks. But in case my last post left you wondering, I had to go back to hospital again and it turned out to be a kidney stone rather than the gastrointestinal issue I was diagnosed with at first. Oh, the election? How did that go? Whos going to govern New Zealand for the next three years? The answer, I can reveal, is: we dont know either.
No party commands a majority in Parliament. On the votes so far counted, the neoliberal National Party has several more seats in Parliament than the edging-towards-social-democratic Labour-Greens bloc. But the key phrase there is so far counted. Ive seen several media commentators jumping the gun at this point and talking about what happens next as if the count was over. It isnt. New Zealand electoral law allows for people to cast what are called special votes before election day, if theyre not going to be in their home electorate on election day, or if theyre not enrolled to vote yet and want to cast a vote at the same time that they enroll instead of waiting, or theres a few other things, I think. (Lately we also allow people to vote early just because they want to, but those dont necessarily count as special votes.) The point is, special votes arent counted on election night. Theyre counted over the next couple of weeks, since a lot of them have to come in from New Zealanders travelling overseas. So we dont have them yet.
Special votes often swing one or two seats generally not enough to upset the election result. This year, however, there was a record number of special votes, amounting to about 15% of the ballots. Before the election there were predictions of a youthquake driven by the rise of Jacinda Ardern. Some commentators are saying that didnt happen after all. Those commentators, I hereby confidently predict, are going to end up with egg on their faces when the special votes come in. Elections across the Western world have been going quite differently, the last couple of years, from what pundits have predicted; its a good bet that the youthquake and the record special vote are the same thing. Im not counting chickens.
Unfortunately, unless the special votes are wildly out of kilter with the other 85%, it wont be enough to change the practical outcome of the election, which is that either bloc will have to make nice to Winston Peters and his New Zealand First party in order to gain a majority. This is the third time hes held this position. In 1996, having campaigned on a promise to get rid of the National government, he supported National, who made him Deputy Prime Minister. In 2005 he supported Labour, whose then leader Helen Clark made him Minister of Foreign Affairs but that time arguably there was a real risk of a Left government forming without him, if only Clark had had the stomach to reach out to the Greens. Now hes back in the kingmaker seat again. Whether the final distribution of votes between Left and Right will influence his choice remains to be seen.
Ive had occasion before, on this blog, to talk about what kind of a politician Winston Peters is. With apologies to those of my readers who dont watch Game of Thrones: back when Metiria Turei resigned from the Green co-leadership, a Facebook friend of mine compared her to Ned Stark and National to the Lannisters. (Another objected that Lannisters always pay their debts.) On that analogy, Winston Peters is Littlefinger, playing off all the parties against each other and thriving on division if Littlefinger, instead of being a preternaturally cunning manipulator, were a cynic whod happened to find a single unvarying tactic that, depressingly, always worked. Think of Donald Trump for a moment (sorry). Remember how a lot of people last year were pinning their last desperate hope on the possibility that he was just faking it for votes? Winston is like if Donald Trump had been just faking it for votes. He runs the same campaign every three years, like clockwork, blaming immigrants for New Zealands troubles; then he gets voted back in, shoots his mouth off a lot, and does nothing whatsoever about immigration.
He does, nevertheless, do considerable damage to New Zealand political life by keeping open and inflamed the festering sore that is anti-Asian racism in this country. Its 2017 and we still cant have a sensible conversation about immigration policy without scads of conspiratorial rubbish about clandestine Chinese takeovers asinine comments on the level of Asians arent bad people but theres too many of them. To give credit where its due, National no longer pander to this particular prejudice, which is not to say that theyve repudiated racism in general. I have lived to see the Left-Right cultural divide in New Zealand turn into a question of which kinds of racism we have to tolerate: racism against Asian and sometimes Jewish people, or racism against Māori, Pacific Islanders, and Muslims. No wonder its difficult raising political enthusiasm in young progressive types these days. And no wonder the electorates with the largest Asian populations were those which saw the support for National rise. I blame Winston.