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ELECTION 1999: The Dust Begins To Settle

by Alastair Thompson and Jonathan Hill

After the last two and a half months of exhaustive media assault the New Zealand population only now seem to be emerging from their bunkers and looking cautiously to see if the political dust has settled. After an excruciating nine week election campaign, and a blink of an eye nine day coalition negotiation, it seems that, for now, the dust has settled with merciful pace. It is safe to come out now. Jonathan Hill and Alastair Thompson have a quick recap of election 1999.

For a start it is safe to say that the re-entry of the Greens to parliament is Jim Anderton's worst case scenario. That the Greens have seven seats and the Alliance 10 will be hard enough for the Alliance to swallow - especially given that the Greens appear to have seriously eaten into the Alliance support base - but having to rely on the Greens in order for the centre-left to pass legislation is a very bitter pill.

The return of the Greens on special votes - both winning an electorate and breaking five per cent - combined with the provisional victory of Winston Peters has reduced the seats held by Labour and the Alliance to 59. Two short of a majority.

Indeed the aftermath of the election has been far more interesting and exciting than the election itself. And a whole lot faster - although perhaps that is part of the problem.

Labour and the Alliance dived head- first into signing a coalition agreement with record haste and are now left in the unexpected nightmare position of having a signed-up minority government.

Labour and the Alliance have been far from friendly towards the Greens since they emerged as serious contenders in the campaign.

Anderton publicly criticised the Green candidates on a number of occasions, and neither party supported the Greens to any real extent in what was the crucial seat of Coromandel. Yet now they depend on Green support to govern.

The coalition agreement signing and the allocation of cabinet portfolios was rushed and premature, giving the appearance of a child rushing to unwrap Christmas presents.

It is strange that both coalition parties have treated the Greens with the disdain they have as it was always looking likely that such a situation as this could eventuate. Perhaps the haste in the coalition signing was designed to counter this very possibility.

It's funny how things work out isn't it? Anderton leaves Labour in acrimony before patching things up in the interests of forming a new government. The Greens leave the Alliance in acrimony and now also appear to be playing a role in a new government.

Despite the clear elation from Anderton at being a part of a new government – although that will be seriously diminished now - the Alliance will not be as thrilled with their election result as they appear.

Anderton ran a first-rate campaign and the advertising and promotional material produced by the party was professional and persuasive, however it didn't translate into votes. Eight per cent of the party vote was surprisingly low and showed that, as a result of the swing towards the Greens and the main parties, the Alliance was the big loser, with their support nearly halving from the last election.

But while disappointed in the Greens crashing their party, the Green presence may well eventually be an asset to the Alliance. It is certainly worse news for Labour - and the right leaning faction of Labour in particular.

The Alliance and Greens share a great deal of common policy ground - infinitely more than the Alliance and Labour - and together, the left of the 'centre-left', is looking much stronger and more influential. Labour will be worried at the strengthening of its left flank as it will not be a good look to keep depending on Winston Peters - if he survives the re- count.

There is a great deal of scope for the Alliance and Greens to put their past behind them and to support each other and work closely and co- operatively - perhaps initially on environmental issues such as native logging and genetic engineering.

Ex-Green MP Phillida Bunkle has already told Scoop she welcomes the return of her old colleagues, saying she feels she will have even more support on a range of issues and that their presence will be good for parliament.

The combined left has not been so strong in a long time. There has been a very clear vote for change and together these two smaller parties could achieve a lot.

The Alliance and Greens combined is an extremely strong vote for the environment a fact clearly acknowledged by Alliance leader Jim Anderton over recent days in his appeals to the green and environmental lobby.

But there are other new political developments behind the result - as well as the sharp rise in vote environment - and in this regard the Greens result especially deserves a closer look.

Obviously the Coromandel race was the key through which much publicity and speculation arrived, but the other key to their success was Nandor Tanczos.

As new Green MP Keith Locke pointed out yesterday, the victory of the Greens was a victory for New Zealand young people. The surge in late enrolments, the large party vote returns in the major cities and the healthy special votes all point to young people turning out en masse - albeit late and in different electorates - to support the Greens.

The appeal with Tanczos isn't hard to understand. He is different, and for that reason alone, people - especially young people - wanted him in Parliament. He is intelligent, articulate and friendly and women seem to love him. After Herald political reporter Audrey Young said Tanczos could 'pull my potatoes any time' it is not beyond the realms of possibility that some sex appeal vote also came to the Greens through Tanczos.

National and ACT are thrilled with the Green presence in parliament as they see it as further destabilising the government. So far Simon Upton has been out in front on this and his analysis that having the Greens there will make the Alliance hard to "brand" itself more prominently is clearly correct.

But given their relish at the Green victory, the re-count in Tauranga is interesting politics. If Peters is eventually defeated by O'Regan, Labour and the Alliance will again be closer to an absolute majority.

One might have thought the Nats might have considered a recount as not being in their medium term interests if not their long-term interests - which are being used as the theoretical explanation for their decision to rush to a recount.

Ex-NZ Firster Michael Laws says Peters is perfectly positioned to rebuild his party and that we should expect him to relish this period in opposition, as this is where he is most comfortable. It looks likely that it will be Peters who launches the first attacks on the new government and it seems likely that it will be sustained for the next three years.

The fact that Peters is even back in Parliament is probably more good luck than good management for Peters.

The vote against him in his precious Tauranga seat was massive with only a case of chronic vote-splitting that allowed him to snatch an unlikely and unpopular victory. He has been elected to Parliament but his mandate is highly suspect. He has a lot of very hard work ahead of him if he is to make it back at the next election.

In classic Peters style he has told the media to 'get stuffed' and is refusing to address the people who voted for him today. Despite exhaustive attempts by the media Peters has gone to ground although with some kind of twisted logic he did grant an interview to ABC last night.

Perhaps he is avoiding the New Zealand media because the facts speak for themselves and no amount of bluster is going to convince anyone otherwise.

Finally Scoop is of the opinion that Chief Electoral Officer - and chief whipping boy - Phil Whelan is getting an unfairly hard time. On election night the counting was delayed by the referendum that is the clear reason for the delays - interviewing every returning officer in the country is not going to find anything more than this.

As for the specials it is hardly surprising that Whelan is being so incredibly cautious. The results in Coromandel and Tauranga have been critical to the formation of the government. He and we need to get the result right first time round. As it is we will still have to wait a further week for a recount in Tauranga. Scoop says it is time to give the messenger a break.


ends

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