Last month’s two indecisive elections, in New Zealand and Germany, both moved a step closer to resolution at the weekend.

In New Zealand, final results announced after the counting of “special
votes” (which we call postal and absentee votes) slightly improved the
position of Helen Clark’s Labour Party. Its lead over the National
Party improved from 50-49 to 50-48; this means that, if necessary, it
could now govern without the support of either New Zealand First or
United Future, provided the Progressives, Greens and Maori Party all
come on board. National leader Don Brash has now conceded defeat.

Although this has been widely reported, the media have not tried to
explain what happened to the extra seat. The answer is not difficult,
but it reflects one of the quirks of New Zealand’s MMP electoral
system. On the provisional results, the National Party narrowly won the
last of the list seats; with final figures,
that seat instead went to the Maori Party, taking its entitlement to
three. But since the Maori Party had already won four electorate seats,
its total didn’t increase. It just reduced the “overhang,” taking the
total seats in parliament from 122 back to 121.

Meanwhile in Germany, the supplementary election in Dresden has been won, as expected, by the Christian Democrats.
That increases their lead over the Social Democrats to four seats; not
enough to make any difference to the party dynamics in parliament, but
an important psychological boost to the opposition.

The Dresden result increases the prospect that the Social Democrats
will agree to taking second place in a grand coalition between the two
major parties. Even though there are other strategies that might give
chancellor Gerhard Schroeder a better chance of remaining in power,
this is now looking unlikely, and public opinion seems to be warming to
the prospect of the two adversaries governing together. But more tough
negotiations might be needed to reach that point.

Peter Fray

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