Crikey psephologist Charles Richardson writes:

As the editorial in this morning’s Australian puts it, New Zealand is a bit like “a mini-Australia that exists in a parallel universe.” For most of the last few decades, its changes of government have run closely in line with Australia’s. But its Labour Party, having moved faster on economic reform than ours did in the 1980s, self-destructed and lost office in 1990; with the right coming to power sooner, the electorate got tired of them sooner as well, and Labour was able to come back in 1999 (a year after Kim Beazley had narrowly failed to do the same in Australia).

Now Labour is under threat from a resurgent National Party, led by former reserve bank governor Don Brash. He is promising not a “relaxed and comfortable” New Zealand, but a shake-up with tax cuts and a rollback of Maori privileges. He also hints at reconsidering New Zealand’s largely symbolic ban on visits from nuclear-armed or powered ships.

The opinion polls have been bouncing around all through the long campaign, and it is impossible to say who is in front. A narrow lead by either of the major parties may not be enough, because if minor party votes go the wrong way its opponents might still be able to put together a majority coalition. Especially unpredictable is the New Zealand First party of Winston Peters, a parallel-universe version of Pauline Hanson; last time he had the balance of power, in 1996, he kept the Nationals in office, but his dislike for Brash’s free-market ideas makes him a wild card this time.

A recent poll shows that 48% of New Zealanders expect Labour to win, as against only 27% for National, so it may be that some of the Nationals’ strength in the polls is just a protest vote that will return to Labour when the crunch comes. But sometimes protest votes are real, as John Howard’s 1996 victory demonstrated.

Best comment on the election came from Keith Lyons, writing in the New Zealand Herald about the difficulty of lodging a postal vote from Tibet. He describes the local Chinese watching with great interest as he fills out his ballot paper: “They are intrigued there is someone from the ‘Anti-capitalist alliance’. ‘We tried that, but it didn’t work,’ says a man.”