Under the steady hand of John Key New Zealand has had 9 years of very stable, and successful, government by the National Party (a moderate conservative party) through some turbulent times internationally. But in a surprising move at the end of 2016 Mr Key resigned as Prime Minister. Most commentators had expected Mr Key to lead the National Party into the next election.
The forces of change may be upon us as 2017 is election year in New Zealand.
Mr Key’s deputy Bill English has taken over the position of Prime Minister. Mr English is well respected and was a very successful Minister of Finance during Mr Key’s time as Prime Minister, but his level of general popularity as Prime Minister is well below that of Mr Key.
National will no doubt campaign on the basis of its record and promoting a “steady as it goes” approach. Without Mr Key at the helm, that may not be enough for National to retain a near outright majority.
There are 3 other significant political choices for voters in the New Zealand political landscape.
The second largest party in New Zealand is the Labour Party now led by Andrew Little. Mr Little is not a particularly charismatic figure but he has very recently appointed the popular Jacinda Ardern as his deputy.
The main political platform of the Labour Party which appears to be emerging is that a Labour government would do something about the New Zealand housing crisis (which is really an Auckland problem). The issue of affordability of homes has been increasing year-on-year as a major financial and social issue which public opinion demands must be addressed. As yet the Labour Party has not advanced any particular plan to rein in or reduce the cost or availability of housing and presently the public are sceptical as to whether Labour can do anything to address the issue. However, if they can come up with a credible means of tackling housing, then Labour is likely to be a much stronger force to be reckoned with in the forthcoming election.
With the popularity of Labour in the polls sitting at under 30%, it would be extremely unlikely that Labour could form a government alone or possibly even with one other party but they may secure enough votes to upset the National juggernaut.
The third largest party traditionally is the Green Party. The Greens and Labour have indicated they will work together though their policies are not always well aligned. The Green Party has struggled to secure significant votes and its popularity does not appear to be on the increase.
The fourth party is New Zealand First led by Winston Peters. Mr Peters is something of a wildcard but he generally garners votes by playing on populist issues such as race, immigration and anti-globalisation. Given the international mood which has seen Brexit and the election of Donald Trump, Mr Peters can be expected to do reasonably well in the forthcoming election.
New Zealand First’s policies do not sit well with any of the other 3 parties. However, fundamentally, New Zealand First probably has the most in common with the National Party. Under Mr Key’s leadership the support of New Zealand First was not required for the National Party to form a government. However, if National’s support falls below that which it currently holds as the incumbent governing party then National is likely to require the support of New Zealand First to form a government. Mr English has left that possibility open.
It is shaping up to be an interesting election year. The outcome will not be known until 23 September 2017 when the elections are to be held, or probably sometime after that date once a coalition of parties is able to form a government. Whatever happens, with the departure of Mr Key, we are likely to see some changes in the way New Zealand is governed from the end of 2017.