20 May 2024
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New Zealand will change its Government in October

Malcolm Mackerras
25 July 2023

Here’s another prediction for my readers. On Saturday 14 October there will be a general election for New Zealand’s House of Representatives, a body of 120 members in a unicameral parliament. The election will replace the present Labour-Green Party coalition government by a National Party-ACT coalition government. The present prime minister since January 2023 (Christopher Hipkins) is a youngish-looking Labour man representing north-east Wellington’s suburban seat of Remutaka, with a low-to-middle income population. On my prediction the new prime minister (Christopher Luxon) will be the National Party leader and former very successful businessman.  He represents some of Auckland’s beach-side suburbs, with a population middle-to-upper income - and a large dose of Chinese who mainly vote National.  Hipkins is nominally Christian, but Luxon follows the pattern of modern conservative leaders of allowing himself to be seen as noticeably Christian of the conservative kind.

The present deputy prime minister is Carmel Sepuloni, Labour, a Samoan woman who represents some of Auckland’s suburbs lying on or near Waitemata Harbour. She gained her office in January this year on the same day as Hipkins became PM, and as a consequence of the retirement of Jacinda Ardern. If I am right in my predictions, the new deputy prime minister will be David Seymour, the ACT leader, who represents the richest electorate in New Zealand. His seat of Epsom is the Auckland equivalent of Sydney’s Wentworth.

I mention these details purely to note that New Zealand’s top four politicians all represent electoral districts in cities. None represents rural New Zealand. None is a party-list member. However, some more information is needed. First, ACT is not like Australia’s Nationals. It is a free market party of the right which was originally known as the Association of Consumers and Taxpayers. It is often described as “ideologically Friedmanite” but is thought by some recently to have gone off the rails and a become Trump-lite.

Second, the concept of “party-list member” needs explaining. There is no lower house in Australia with anything like it. Whereas every Australian lower house member (federal, state and territory) has been directly elected New Zealand’s House of Representatives consists of 72 members who have been directly chosen by the people from electoral districts “topped up” by 48 party-list members.

I first started following New Zealand elections closely for the general elections held on 25 November 1972 and 29 November 1975. In those days there were 87 members, all directly elected from single-member electoral districts by first past the post voting and counting of votes. In 1972 the result was 55 Labour and 32 National while in 1975 it was 55 National and 32 Labour, a landslide each time with a biggish majority for the winning party of 23 seats. No minor party even had a look in.

Then came the demand for proportional representation. Consequently, the elections of 1996, 1999, 2002, 2005, 2008, 2011, 2014, 2017 and 2020 were determined under a system known as “Mixed Member Proportional” or MMP for short. It is a PR system, quite unlike anything in Australia, but broadly based on its German original, though I consider it to be better than the German equivalent.

The essence of PR systems for lower houses is that it is hard for a single party to win a majority of seats. Even when there is a majority the winning party will typically seek a coalition partner or two because there is never a majority win at two successive elections. The overall distribution of seats is determined by the distribution of the national party vote in what is described as a “two-vote system” which I prefer to call a “two-ticks one vote system”. The ballot paper offers the voter the choice of a local member, but the overall party vote is what determines the overall final numbers in seats.

For example, at the election held on 17 October 2020, the winning Labour Party (then led by prime minister Jacinda Ardern) secured 1,443,545 party votes (50.01%) while the combination of all the rest won 1,442,875 party votes (49.99%). Seats won were 65 Labour, 33 National, ten each for ACT and the Green Party and two for the Maori Party. Of more interest to me, however, is the distribution of the 72 members who were directly elected from single-member constituencies (by first past the post voting and counting of votes). The numbers were 46 Labour, 23 National, and one each for ACT (Epsom), Green Party (Auckland Central) and Maori Party (Waiariki). So, the party-list seats were distributed disproportionally in order to produce substantial overall proportionality - with Labour getting 54% of the total seats on a 50% vote and National getting 28% of total seats on a 26% overall vote.

Again, I must give more details. The 1,442,875 party votes in October 2020 not cast for Labour should be divided in two with 1,217,693 helping to elect at least one party-list member and 225,182 effectively going into the rubbish bin as losing votes. The 1,217,693 consisted of 738,275 for National, 226,757 for the Green Party, 219,031 for ACT and 33,630 for the Maori Party.

Over the past 12 months Labour has lost two seats, so it now has “only” 63. National has gained one seat and the Maori Party also has enjoyed one gain. There was a defection from Labour to the Maori Party involving a woman by the name of Meka Whaitiri, member for the Maori seat Ikaroa-Rawhiti which covers the entire east coast of the North Island. There was also a by-election for Hamilton West last December meaning that National now has 24 directly elected members, the 23 won in October 2020 plus Hamilton West.

Having made my bold overall prediction in the first two paragraphs of this article, I now predict the new numbers in the House of Representatives. On the right I have 63 members, being 48 National Party and 15 from ACT. On the left I have a total of 57, being 44 Labour, ten Greens and three from the Maori Party. The main basis of my predictions is my averaging of the opinion polls conducted this year. However, I add to that a personal judgment. There will be fear that a win for the left will bring a frustrated collection of Greens in the House wanting more climate change action, more progressive social intervention and “soak the rich” tax reform. There will also be fear of Maori demands for Treaty of Waitangi self-determination action.

Finally, there is one MMP peculiarity I should mention. The total number of members could be 121, not 120 due to a feature of MMP called “overhang seats” in New Zealand and “uberhangmandate” in Germany. To illustrate, take my prediction for the Maori Party which I forecast will have three constituencies in the new House, Waiariki, Ikaroa-Rawhiti and Te Tai Tokerau, all in the North Island. I predict also that the party vote will be quite low for the Maori Party meaning that it has three seats but only entitled to two on its party vote percentage. My prediction for the left, then, would be 45 seats for Labour, not 44, with Greens still on ten and the Maori Party on three.

There will be plenty of New Zealand analysts who will disagree with me about the Maori Party. My answer is to point out that the Maori Party vote last time of 33,630 was only 1.2% of the total party vote of 2,886,420. The party was included in the PR count purely due to its Waiariki win. With two or three constituencies likely to be won this time logically there would be no point in voting for it in the determination of party-list seats. It is a party increasingly likely to get seats by constituency wins – and continue to be that kind of party, making it different from the others whose party votes will always exceed the 5% threshold.

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