A Snap Election Looks Increasingly Likely
A Snap Election Looks Increasingly Likely
Weekly Column by Dr Muriel Newman
New Zealand has only ever had two snap elections in the whole of our 150 year parliamentary history.
Since the three year parliamentary term was introduced in 1879 to replace the five year term established under the Constitution Act of 1852, elections have been held every three years except during crises.
The 19th Parliament was extended to five years during the First World War, the 24th to four years during the Depression and the 26th to five years during the Second World War.
Any Prime Minister has the prerogative to call an early election, but this has only been exercised by Sid Holland in 1951 and Robert Muldoon in 1984.
In 1951, Prime Minister Holland faced the gravest industrial crisis since1913. Strike leaders were holding the country to ransom, with widespread waterfront strikes bringing the nation to a standstill.
As a result, he invoked emergency powers to break the strangle-hold of the unions, to end the strikes and get the country working again.
Accused by the Labour Party of using police powers that were fascist and dictatorial, Mr Holland decided that the only democratic course was to ask the people.
A general election was called to test whether voters believed that democratic governments have a responsibility to up-hold the rule of law and keep people safe from dictatorial mob-rule, force and intimidation.
Six weeks later, his government was re-elected with an increased majority - the last majority government in our history.
A newspaper editorial described the result: What Mr Holland and his colleagues have learned is that honest, courageous administration and an honest approach to the electors are the true values in politics, and that the electors are intelligent enough to appreciate forthright political integrity.
It went on to say: What the people of New Zealand have learned is that they, in a positive majority, when faced with a decision on vital issues want sanity in government and order and safety in their lives.
In the real analysis, they are opposed to catchpenny politics...
The second snap election was called on the evening of the 14th of June 1984, as New Zealand teetered on the brink of financial collapse.
Prime Minister Muldoon announced that he could no longer guarantee a Government majority as a result of the wavering of unilateral support for the Government's programme by MPs Marilyn Waring and Mike Minogue, and would ask the Governor General to dissolve Parliament.
The election, held on July 14th, saw the Labour Government sweep into power.
If Helen Clark calls a snap election, she will be breaking the time-honoured tradition that Prime Ministers only call early elections in times of national crisis.
Right now there is no national crisis.
Labour's partners in Government, the two Alliance parties and the Greens, have pledged their voting support right through to the election.
Labour's voting majority is not under threat; nothing has changed regarding Labour's ability to govern.
What has been changing however, is the public's perception of the Labour Party's political bedmates.
The meltdown of the Alliance and the increasingly radical stance of the Greens are starting to look untidy.
The Labour Party is concerned that this may rub off on them and taint their image.
If Labour calls an early election, the only reason is the perceived threat to its image.
It is political opportunism at its worst: the Labour Party putting self-preservation and the retention of power ahead of the good of the country, since early elections damage national stability and have a disruptive effect on the running of the country.
As it smoothes the way for an early election, Labour is claiming that it can win a majority vote and govern on its own. The reality is that there have been no majority governments in New Zealand for over 50 years.
It was difficult enough for governments to win majorities under the simpler first past the post two-party system.
Under our mixed member proportional system - which gives voters two votes and far greater choices of parties to support than ever before - it is virtually impossible.
Under MMP it takes two parties to govern.
The majority party will win a majority of electorate seats and the minor party will essentially gain its support through party votes.
Voters, in deciding what sort of government they want, will need to look closely at what both parties are offering before supporting the major party with their electorate vote and the minor party with their party vote.
In this election, in the left corner is Labour, the Alliances and the Greens.
As the Alliances continue on their path to self-destruction, it looks increasingly likely that the Greens will be the major partner for a Labour Government.
These parties share their commitment to greater government power and control, leading to a weaker economy, a lower standard of living and less individual freedom and choice.
In the other corner are National and ACT.
Any thought that National could govern on its own is clearly misguided.
Supporters of a centre-right government will need to give their party vote to ACT to ensure a majority between them.
Together, National and ACT are committed to growing the economy, returning New Zealand to a land of prosperity and opportunity, where freedom and choice are protected and individual responsibility encouraged.
The next couple of weeks could see the beginning of the campaign for an untimely election.
If it is, I would encourage anyone who believes the government deserves to be voted out because they have put power and the perks of office ahead of the good of the country, to contact us and lend a hand.
Dr Muriel Newman, MP for ACT New Zealand, writes a weekly opinion piece on topical issues for a number of community newspapers.
You are welcome to forward this column to anyone you think may be interested.
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