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Kiwis go to the polls

11 July 2008

Kiwis go to the polls

July 14 2008 marks 155 years since New Zealanders' first trip to the polling booths. But if elections seem complex in 2008, New Zealand's first parliamentary elections began on 14 July 1853 in the Bay of Islands and didn't end until 1 October in Otago.

The Ministry for Culture and Heritage website www.NZHistory.net.nz has a feature on the colourful story of elections at http://www.nzhistory.net.nz/politics/election-day to mark this milestone on Monday.

Bribery, drunkenness, dancing Cossacks and 'The Worm' have all featured in election years since 1853. The 1879 election in Christchurch was one of the most dramatic and violent in New Zealand's history with 1500 'drunken larrikins' wreaking havoc at dusk. NZHistory.net.nz also documents the political rise of women with photos of women casting their first vote and a history of the 'ladies' gallery' where women could sit at Parliament - supposedly 'not to distract MPs when speaking'.

The absence of organised political parties in New Zealand until the 1890s gave rise to some wonderfully specific election adverts in sharp contrast to the slogans and visual images so prominent in modern elections.

The Election Days Media Gallery is full of memorabilia at: http://www.nzhistory.net.nz/media_gallery/tid/1819. Images range from classic propaganda posters to one of a vast crowd glued to Willis Street's Evening Post office façade as results were literally pasted to it at the 1931 general election And of course, a video of National's 1975 unforgettable dancing Cossacks.

'Community contributions' for most articles allow web visitors to make a mark. There are links to useful resources as New Zealanders head toward the election of the 49th New Zealand Parliament later this year.

ENDS

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