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City Voice: Does Labour have a choice?

City Voice: Does Labour have a choice?

By Seishi Gomibuchi

WILL Winston Peters be queenmaker after the election? As three years ago, the leader of NZ First is vehemently refusing to disclose his preferred coalition partner.

Richard Prebble has been reported as saying that the charismatic politician can assume the role only if the two major parties let him. And every sign indicates that they will.

Not surprisingly, Peters' ambiguous stance frustrates both parties. For example, Helen Clark recently said: "A vote for Labour is a vote for a change in government. A vote for NZ First is a vote for confusion."

However, such criticism has so far fallen short of ruling out any possible dealing with NZF after the election.

Such hesitancy is understandable since it is still possible that Peters will hold the crucial balance of power again after November by winning his seat or via the party list. If he does, his service may be sought after as much as it was three years ago. Upsetting Peters, therefore, could cost them the Treasury benches.

So, what can the two major parties do, apart from sit back and hope that such a situation will never arise? This is a particularly frustrating question for Labour because if the current popularity rise of NZF continues, it is more likely to be at its (or its junior coalition partner, the Alliance's) cost than National's.

However, Labour could do the unthinkable and rule out NZF as its future coalition partner. And it may be not be such a stupid idea. Here is the logic.

With that declaration, Labour could redefine the electoral contest into a straight choice between two blocs, Labour-Alliance and National-NZF-Act. Then they can argue that a vote for Peters is a vote for National. Thus, if people want a "real" change of government (i.e. not from one National-led government to another), they must vote for Labour (or the Alliance).

Many of the potential NZF supporters are presumably anti-Government voters. If they know that their votes will support the National Party, it will be a huge turn-off for them.

Without Labour, Peters will be left with two options. He can either confirm that he will indeed form a government with National, or state his intention to remain as an independent force.

However, he will face serious problems there. Act, another potential National coalition partner, has already declined to deal with Peters.

Moreover, by siding with National, Peters has to refrain from attacking the present Government, and will risk being seen as a part of the "establishment". As he well knows, that will take away his most effective weapon during the election campaign. When he was in that position last time as Treasurer, NZF's popularity plummeted.

The second option is equally unattractive for the NZF leader. As the Alliance found out at the last election, many voters lose interest once their party decides to disassociate itself with the future government.

Of course, if Labour rules out any future dealings with him, Peters will not let that happen quietly. One of his likely criticisms is that the party is denying the people a genuine choice. Even then, Labour can comfortably justify its position by pointing out that it is giving people a clearer choice between a change of government and the continuation of the status quo. They are simply eliminating the muddling factor - Peters.

Labour seriously believes in the need for a change of government. As Peters is unwilling to declare his hand, Labour doubts whether he shares the same view. Consequently, it has concluded that the only certain way to change the government is to do so without him.

It must be Labour's nightmare scenario if it again has to rest its hope of governance in NZF's hands. Maybe it is too afraid to upset Peters by refusing assistance from him in the future - just in case he becomes queenmaker. Ironically, doing so may help make him become just that.

ENDS

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