ELECTION UPDATE: English seeks first talks with NZ First as final vote count raises odds of NZ regime change
By Pattrick Smellie
Oct. 7 (BusinessDesk) - Prime Minister Bill English is putting a brave face on the loss of two seats in the final count from the Sept. 23 general election, which could spell the end of nine years of National Party-led governments in New Zealand.
“Now that the special votes have been counted it’s time for political parties to get on with the job of forming a strong government to take New Zealand forward, and I look forward to engaging with Mr Peters and New Zealand First over the coming days to achieve that,” said English in a statement apparently claiming the convention that the party holding the balance of power should speak first to the party that won that largest vote on election night.
However, both the Labour and Green party leaders interpreted the transfer of two seats away from National to give them each one additional seat as cementing a mood for change in the electorate.
"Today’s final election count has strengthened the mandate for change," said Labour leader Jacinda Ardern in a statement. Greens leader James Shaw said a three-way "full coalition" of Labour, Green and NZ First was capable of giving New Zealand stable government and that after the election campaign, where parties emphasise their differences, the job was now to seek their "commonalities".
The final results give National 44.4 percent the total party vote, down from 47 percent in 2014, while Labour has bounced from 25 percent three years to 36.9 per cent in the latest election. The Green Party, at 6.3percent, lost almost five percentage points on its 2014 tally following a disastrous start to its campaign when co-leader Metiria Turei resigned over self-confessed benefit and electoral system rorts. NZ First's 7.2 percent is down from 9 percent in 2014.
That gives National 56 instead of the election night tally of 58 seats, leaving it five seats short of a majority in the 120-seat Parliament, and still four short even with the one seat of its traditional supporter, the Act Party. It needs NZ First's nine seats to secure a majority.
The Labour and Green parties now have 54 seats between them and could secure 63 seats in a coalition or governing arrangement involving NZ First, whose leader has said he wants to see a government formed by Thursday next week - a timetable described by other political party leaders as tight.
In his statement, English emphasised that National had finished with 10 more seats than Labour and that "voters had a clear choice at the election between the two major parties that had a realistic prospect of leading the next government".
“They signalled very clearly that they wanted National to perform that role and we will now get on with the job of trying to give effect to their wishes.”
The final count included some 384,000 special votes or around 15 percent of total votes cast.
Shaw was the first political party leader to react, welcoming new MP Golriz Ghahraman, who came to New Zealand as a child and refugee from Afghanistan, and arguing for a "full coalition" with the Labour and New Zealand First parties to form the "first true MMP Parliament" since the country moved to proportional representation voting in 1996.
“The results released today push us closer towards the change of government that so many New Zealanders want,” he said.
It also brings the balance between the centre-right and centre-left blocks closer, with Labour and the Greens holding 54 seats between them, two fewer than National, rather than the six seat gap delivered on election night.
The leaders of the National, Labour and Green parties are all due to make statements before 3.30pm this afternoon, but no word has emerged yet from the camp of the so-called 'king' or 'queen-maker' Winston Peters, leader of the New Zealand First party, whose election night tally remains at nine seats and gives him the balance of power.
The Act party continues to hold one parliamentary seat that could assist National in government, but is essentially irrelevant to coalition negotiations.
The new balance of possibilities means that if National and NZ First were to ally to form a government, the new government would have a notional majority of 11 seats, including Act.
If Labour, the Greens and NZ First ally, they would have a parliamentary majority of six, far more comfortable than the two seat majority delivered on election night, and which Labour leader Jacinda Ardern has indicated might make negotiation of a centre-left government unviable.
Shaw said that with the Greens and NZ First more evenly balanced at eight and nine seats respectively, there was "a case for a level of proportionality" in the allocation of Cabinet portfolios between the two minor parties.
He expected coalition negotiations to start "quite soon", as Peters has nominated a deadline of Oct. 12, next Thursday, as the date by which he will choose which way to jump.
Also entering Parliament for the Labour Party is first-time MP Angie Warren-Clark.
The two National Party candidates who will not now enter the next Parliament are Nicola Willis, a former aide to former National Prime Minister Joh Key, and Maureen Pugh.