The polls that said Saturday’s New Zealand election would be won
decisively were wrong – which wasn’t surprising, since they were unable
to agree on who would be the decisive winner. Instead, Helen Clark’s
Labour government has been returned by the skin of its teeth.

It may take some weeks for the exact shape of the new government to be determined – as the New Zealand Herald reports here – but there is no real
doubt that Labour has won. Its lead over the opposition National Party
is only one seat, 50-49, but including the obvious coalition partners
for each side brings that to 57-51, with 14 uncommitted. Four of those
are from the Maori Party, and although it claims
to be open to offers
from both sides,
it is almost unthinkable that it could support a National government.
Instead, Clark will govern with the support of some or all of the
Greens, Progressives, Maori Party, United Future and New Zealand First;
the fact that she doesn’t need them all should enable her to resist
extravagant demands from any of them.

There are about 200,000 postal and absentee votes (“special votes”) to
be counted, but they are unlikely to change the result in the National’s
favour, since the last-decided seat was won by them anyway – check the official results here. Any change would
be more likely to cost the Nationals a seat at the expense of Labour,
the Greens or the Progressives.

Expect plenty of hand-wringing in the next few week about how
proportional representation produces unstable government (in fact it’s
already started, with this editorial in The Australian).
Rubbish. It’s called democracy, something we could use more of in
Australia. If the electorate is as finely balanced as this – Labour
leads the Nationals by just 1.1% – it would be grossly undemocratic for
either side to have a comfortable majority. If the minor parties set
their demands too high, the major parties can always lock them out by
doing a deal between themselves.

Labour’s victory should not obscure the fact that Nationals leader Don
Brash has achieved a huge turnaround in his party’s fortunes, going
from 21% to almost 40% in one election. It makes Kim Beazley’s task
look modest by comparison.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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