Friday 25 November 2011

Coronation or Conundrum?

Giving Or Taking?: With all the polls showing National on track to win an outright majority of the votes cast, the Prime Minister is heading for an electoral coronation. If NZ First crosses the five percent MMP threshold, however, New Zealand faces a conundrum. Will NZ First, by abstaining on Confidence and Supply motions, allow "King John" to govern, or will that wily old kingmaker, Winston Peters, permit Phil Goff to seize his crown?

TOMORROW’S ELECTION will be either a coronation or a conundrum. The pollsters predict the former: that National will canter home with more than half the votes cast. If the voters confirm these prognostications, then Mr Key will more than merit the monarchical moniker. He and his party will have achieved what no other New Zealand prime minister or German chancellor has ever achieved under the Mixed Member Proportional system: outright victory and the ability to govern without the irksome baggage of coalition. If that is the result, then “King John” it’ll be – and who’s to say him nay?

For the Election to become a conundrum two things have to happen. First, and most crucially, Winston Peters’ NZ First Party must rise above the 5 percent MMP threshold. If it doesn’t, then Mr Key’s Government is almost certainly safe. The second thing (and, naturally, it’s closely related to the first) is that National’s percentage of the Party Vote has to fall to the mid-forties. If Mr Peters gets up, and National drops down below 45.5 percent, then it’ll be fair to announce: “Houston, we have a problem.”

Our problem might best be described as a case of multiple and mutual political allergies. Mr Key is allergic to Mr Peters, and Mr Peters is allergic to Mr Key. Fair enough, you might say, there’s no love lost between those two. If Mr Peters adds his 5 percent (6 seats) to Labour’s 32 percent (39 seats), the Green’s 12 percent (15 seats) and Mana’s 1.5 percent (2 seats), then it’s all over. Phil Goff becomes Prime Minister and Mr Key remains uncrowned. (We’re assuming, of course, that Mr Goff’s allergy to Mr Harawira miraculously vanishes on Saturday evening.)

If only it were that simple.

But, unfortunately, Mr Peters’ allergies extend far beyond Mr Key and the National Party. He also claims to be allergic to Labour’s Mr Goff, the Greens’ Russel Norman and Metiria Turei, and Mana’s Hone Harawira. National’s unforgiveable sin is its plan to sell state assets. Labour’s, the Greens’ and the Mana Party’s unpardonable transgression is their support for what Mr Peters’ calls “Maori separatism”. Accordingly, Mr Peters has declared a plague on all their houses. NZ First, he says, will take itself off to the Opposition Benches and there maintain the strictest political celibacy.


That could be good news for Mr Key. Let’s assume his worst nightmare with National sliding down to “just” 45 percent of the Party Vote. That would entitle it to 55 seats. Now let’s assume that “the good voters of Epsom” elect Mr Banks, but Act, itself, receives only 1 percent of the Party Vote. National gets one ally. If Peter Dunne holds Ohariu, National has two allies. If the Maori Party wins three of the Maori seats, National’s allies number five and it is able to form a coalition controlling 60 of the 121 seats. That’s a healthy margin above Mr Goff’s 56 seats.

Not so fast. Before he can form a Government, Mr Key must be able to inform the Governor-General that National commands a majority of the seats in the House of Representatives. Can he do that? Only if Mr Peters gives him a firm undertaking that on matters of Confidence and Supply he and his colleagues will abstain.

But, if NZ First undertakes to abstain on votes of Confidence and Supply that’s tantamount to allowing Mr Key to form a government. Is it possible that Mr Peters, having confounded the critics and led his party back to Parliament, will then repeat his extraordinary decision of 1996 and re-seat his arch-enemies on the Treasury Benches?

No, the only way Mr Peters can “punish” his enemies is to pledge his party’s consistent support on matters of Confidence and Supply to Mr Goff. There’s simply no other means of securing his political legacy.

Were I the Governor-General, I’d be praying that the coronation of “King John” spares me the conundrum of Mr Peters.

This essay was originally published in The Dominion-Post, The Otago Daily Times, The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 25 November 2011.


Victor said...

Pedants corner:

I think you'll find that Konrad Adenauer had an absolute CDU/CSU majority in the Bundestag between 1957 and 1961.

You could advance the counter pedantry that his party was actually a coalition of the CDU and the Bavarian CSU.

But that would, I think, be taking pedantry too far, as the two organisations have been joined at the hip throughout the Federal Republic's history.

Interestingly, Adenauer's campaign slogan in 1957 was "No Experiments":

This seems to be more or less what John Key and Steven Joyce are saying to us.

The difference might be that Adenauer meant what he said.

Duval said...

Perhaps the words of Shakespeare's King Lear will be evoked and Key will cry, "who is it that can tell me who I am?" and the reply shall be "Time shall unfold what plaited cunning hides."

But if you ask me, I say... off with his head! And let us eat cake.

Gruntie said...

so Chris ... you going to vote NZ First?

Anonymous said...

It seems a small % of Kiwi's will be voting for instability at a time when we don't need it. If they truly vote for NZF thinking that they will have the last laugh in toppling the King, it will be quickly swiped off their faces when they realise that the steady ship SS Key possibly would have been better than SS Goff. I'm hoping they are intelligent... really, but hope is often a misguided thought process of uncertainty.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Well Winnie is now officially over 5%. The question is are the polls correct. See you tomorrow :-).

Jeremy Bowen said...

John's biggest quality seems to be his ability to appear to cosy up to babies constantly and not look bored. That old political aphorism must be hugely energy boosting for him as he seems to have milked it for everything even to the point of buying lollies to take on the bus. Bad idea John it's one thing to waggle their fingers, it's quite another to offer them lollies. Of course babies for the most part care not whether you kiss them or waggle their finger, which must please John, for just imagine the headline during the campaign, 'Baby gets sick after kissing Key'. Have some faith though Chris, I seem to recall the Captain of the Titanic being supremely over confident. So as the ship sails away, if it does, it's size will be paramount, the height above the quay for the champaign corks to fall from, sailing down in slow motion almost as if though they are sentient creatures with the supernatural ability to foretell the future. Think I'll write this down long hand fifty times this evening in the hope of having that exact dream.

Kat said...

Just as well your not the Governor General.

Anonymous said...

Well, you were half-right Chris. ACT and United are back as 1-man bands, and the Maori Party got 3 electorate seats.

But Mana just got 1 seat, and Labour slumped, while Winston and the Greens made hay.

FWIW, has anyone noticed that if the Greens and Labour had not stood electorate candidates in Epsom, Banks may not have won, and if the Greens did not stand Gareth Hughes in Ohariu, Dunne should have lost there too? (assuming those Green & Labour voters voted for Goldsmith and Chauvel resp., which they may not have, but...). The tories pulled off tactical voting better – again, dammit!

Point being that a little more careful tactical voting/un-candidacies by Labour & Greens could have wiped ACT and United from Parliament, leaving Key unchanged on 60 seats out of 121.

Meaning Key would have *needed* Maori Party support, so the MP could have killed off the Nats nasty welfare changes. Or, better yet, that would have put the blowtorch on the Maori Party & NZ First to support a Labour-Greens-Mana coalition govt.

It actually is that close. When will the left learn to tactically stand candidates and vote? Voting like we are free is good sometimes, but not when it delivers 3 more years of Key.

That centre-left inability to coordinate their resistance to National is the real story of this election.

Mad Marxist.

Richard Jefferis said...

Chris Trotter,
All in all the return of Key is worse than the election of Muldoon on 29 November 1975. Nothing has changed except NZ is poorer on every level.
Whatever else migh tbe said about Muldoon, he had a common touch and sense of what hardship was. Not Key and co. sense of humanity. And it is now devil take the hindmost. Richard J.