Final election count complicates New Zealand Coalition negotiations

Nov 15, 2023
New Zealand High Resolution Vote Concept

The final count of all votes cast in the New Zealand general election has brought into play a third element in the new government’s coalition negotiations.

The outcome is one the National government desperately wanted to avoid. Party leader and Prime Minister elect Christopher Luxon and his team consistently appealed to voters not to support the small New Zealand First party led by the abrasive veteran Winston Peters.

On election night the opposition National Party and the right wing ACT Party won enough seats to form a government. ACT alone faced the prospect of negotiating a number of policy concessions and cabinet seats including a senior position for the party leader David Seymour.

But the final count turned National and ACT’s election night outcome into a three way conundrum.

Compared with election night, the final count shows National won 48 seats, two fewer than on election night, while The Maori Party Te Pāti Māori gained two resulting in six and the Greens gained one resulting in 15.

In a house of 123 seats (after a scheduled by-election on Saturday November 25), National needs both ACT with 11 seats and NZ First with 8 seats to secure a comfortable majority.

As a result of NZ First’s performance, ACT will gain fewer benefits than it would have expected on election night. A share of policy concessions and cabinet positions must now go to NZ First.

Some National Party MPs who might have expected elevation to Cabinet may now have their ambitions blunted by Luxon’s need to accommodate both NZ First and ACT.

Seymour said NZ First’s arrival on the scene is “unfortunate”. He is on record saying NZ First leader Winston Peters is totally untrustworthy.

However, of the three party leaders in the talks Winston Peters has substantially more experience than the others of forming a government.

Luxon has been an MP in opposition for three years. Seymour has been MP and leader of ACT since 2014 and from 2014-2017 he was Parliamentary Under-Secretary to the Minister of Education and to the Minister for Regulatory reform. When challenged at the time about why he hadn’t signed the Official Secrets Act Seymour said this wasn’t necessary because his roles didn’t include decision-making.

Peters has had a long political career. He was first elected as a National Party MP in 1978. In 1990 Prime Minister Jim Bolger made him Minister of Maori Affairs but his tendency to create cabinet room disruption was evident almost from the start. He was dismissed in 1991 for criticising his own government’s economic and foreign ownership policies.

He resigned from the government and in 1993 he formed the populist New Zealand First party.

Under New Zealand’s MMP (Mixed Member Proportional) electoral system Peters and the NZ First party have been influential in supporting governments led by both National and Labour.

In 1996 he held the balance of power and formed a coalition with the National Party. After a change of Prime Ministers the coalition broke up.

In 2005 Peters entered a confidence and supply arrangement with Prime Minister Helen Clark’s Labour Government in which he served as Minister of Foreign Affairs.

In 2017 Peters and his party again held the balance of power and quixotically chose to enter a coalition with the Labour party led by Jacinda Ardern. He served as deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign affairs.

After failing to gain seats in the 2020 election, Peters and his party were out of Parliament until the 2023 General Election.

Early indications about the current coalition negotiations aren’t encouraging. Luxon said that since the election he has spoken to Seymour and he has spoken to Peters but Seymour and Peters haven’t spoken to each other.

Seymour says he sent Peters a message. Peters says he saw the message but thought it was a fake, and he prefers communication in person.

In a significant development late on Thursday afternoon November 9, Winston Peters and his Chief of Staff were seen entering the ACT Party’s temporary offices at Parliament. The meeting lasted only about ten minutes. Seymour later said the pair had a “good chat”.

Remarkably in his negotiations with the Clark Labour government in 2005 Peters insisted on being able to criticise the government on matters outside his ministerial responsibilities. If he wins the same concession from Luxon there could be sniping from the government’s own benches.

With Peters’ proven record of relishing long and difficult negotiations, Prime Minister elect Christopher Luxon faces weeks of frustration until a final result is achieved. Added to that are the complexities of reaching agreement with two parties whose leaders’ personalities and policies already display irritation and incompatibility.

In such circumstances Luxon is unlikely to achieve his stated aim to “crack on and get things done” and the country faces weeks of waiting for its new government.

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