‘Given up’: Biggest loser in NZ election

 

New Zealanders will go to the polls this weekend and the odds are tightening, meaning Jacinda Ardern is going to have to work hard to ensure she remains Prime Minister.

A plucky challenge from newly installed opposition leader Judith Collins has clawed votes the opposition's way.

But whatever way the votes go, it's almost certain that Ms Ardern's right-hand man, and the political figure she can thank for enabling her to become PM, will be cast out.

Winston Peters took his populist party New Zealand First into a coalition with Labour in 2017. That enabled Ms Ardern to form government despite the Labour Party having fewer MPs than their rivals, the Nationals.

For his king-making skills, Mr Peters was rewarded with the plum role of Deputy PM. After Ms Ardern gave birth in 2018, Mr Peters even became Acting Prime Minister for six weeks.

But it's looking increasingly likely NZ First will face a drubbing at the ballot box; Mr Peters may not even be returned as a local MP.

RELATED: Follow our New Zealand election coverage on Saturday, October 17

The leaders of the main NZ parties, in gelato form. Picture: Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images.
The leaders of the main NZ parties, in gelato form. Picture: Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images.

Something of a larrikin, Mr Peters has been a longstanding fixture of Kiwi politics. Divisive to voters, he is also a magnet for TV cameras for his wise-cracking antics, such as storming indignantly out of press conferences.

However, NZ First has been burnt by allegations of fraudulent deposits of hundreds of thousands of dollars into party linked bank accounts. Mr Peters denies any wrongdoing.

On the campaign trail in July, David Seymour, the leader of the resurgent ACT party, said Mr Peters was "nasty, delusional, ultimately sad" and should "retire with some dignity if that's possible".

Website Newshub said on Wednesday, Mr Peters' own staff had "given up hope" of him being returned.

But Mr Peters isn't having any of it.

"I don't concern myself about the polls. I've campaigned further and harder than nay other leader."

He was expecting a "surge" of votes, he said.

Whether Mr Peters manages to hang onto his seat, let alone a seat at the top table, is one of the key events to look out for as this Saturday's election results begin rolling in.

Here's the lowdown on New Zealand's 2020 poll.

Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters’ days of representing New Zealand appear to be over. Picture: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images.
Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters’ days of representing New Zealand appear to be over. Picture: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images.

CURRENT STATE OF PLAY

Despite Ms Ardern's global political stardom, her party's numerical hold on power is surprisingly shaky.

In the 120 member House of Representatives, the opposition National Party has the single largest number of MPs at 54, but that's six short of a majority.

Labour comes in second at 46, even further away from the finishing line. However, the political deal with NZ First and a confidence and supply agreement with the Greens gave the Ms Ardern led grouping a slim overall majority.

WHEN IS ELECTION DAY?

It was supposed to be a month ago on September 19, but the unexpected August outbreak of coronavirus cases in Auckland saw the poll delayed.

The new election day is October 17 and with cases in the country now under control, it's election game on.

 

ARE NZ ELECTIONS LIKE AUSTRALIAN ELECTIONS?

Yes and no. Both countries have representative democracies derived from the British "Westminster" system with the monarch as head of state represented by a Governor-General and with the PM being picked from the largest party.

How people vote in New Zealand is different though.

For a start, New Zealand's parliament only has one chamber, the Reps, so there are no Senators to vote in.

But despite this, Kiwis still get two votes as part of its mixed member proportional voting system. The first ballot is for an individual to be the local MP. That's decided by the "first past the post" system. Simply put, if candidate A gets just one more vote than any other candidate, they're elected.

Kiwis also get to vote separately for a party. These "party" seats are then divvied up proportionally based on how many votes each party gets. Any party that gets more than 5 per cent of the national vote usually gets at least one seat.

There are also seven Maori electorates reserved only for people of Maori descent. You can vote in a Maori electorate or general electorate - but not both.

IS VOTING COMPULSORY?

No. But participation is still high with around 85 per cent of Kiwis who are eligible casting a ballot.

RELATED: Jacinda Ardern admits she smoked weed

New Zealand elections are organised differently to Australian polls. Picture: Hannah Peters/Getty Images.
New Zealand elections are organised differently to Australian polls. Picture: Hannah Peters/Getty Images.

WHO WANTS TO BE PM?

Ms Ardern would of course like to keep the top job and cement her legacy. Ideally Labour's aim is to govern alone without having to rely on NZ First, given the two parties have been uneasy bedfellows.

Judith "crusher" Collins (her nickname derives from her plan to crush the cars of hoons during a stint as police minister) heads up the Nationals, similar to Australia's Liberal party.

NZ First, the Greens and the libertarian ACT could help either party across the line.

CAN CRUSHER CAUSE AN UPSET?

It's not going to be easy.

The PM's personal popularity went up at home, as it has abroad, following her handling of the Christchurch massacre and the pandemic.

So much so, the National party has had problems directly criticising Ms Ardern as voters almost see the attacks as unkind.

But the problems for Ms Collins are mostly of her own party's making. For instance, it's cycled through three leaders in just the past five months, which doesn't scream stability.

Ms Collins herself is also a divisive figure. On the right of the party, she is known for unnecessary gaffes including a tweet where she said she was a "woman of colour - the colour white".

But some voters like her combative style.

"She won't take steps back, she won't apologise, she is a formidable operator," politics professor Richard Shaw of New Zealand's Massey University told news.com.au when she became opposition leader in July.

She has made some ground on Labour. And the fresh COVID-19 outbreak sullied Ms Ardern's reputation. But the question is, has National made up enough ground?

RELATED: Controversial call to officially rename New Zealand

National Party leader Judith Collins says she has a path to victory. Picture: Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images.
National Party leader Judith Collins says she has a path to victory. Picture: Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images.

WHAT DO THE POLLS SAY

Labour and the Nationals were close in the polls until early in the year. Since then Labour pulled ahead. However, that lead has been narrowed by the Nationals during the campaign.

The latest TVNZ/Colmar Brunton poll has Labour on 47 per cent, the Nationals on 32, ACT on 8 and the Greens with 6 per cent.

In July, one poll had Labour on an astonishing 61 per cent of the vote, so it's come down, but it's still a huge lead.

Ms Collins has said the polls were wrong on Trump, and on Brexit, and will be wrong here too.

That's possible, particularly if complacent Labour voters don't go to the polls and the Greens underperform. The Nats would almost certainly need the help of ACT, which has had a poll surge, to govern.

Labour, in contrast, has a clear path to victory. Potentially it could govern alone but even if it doesn't quite make that, it's likely the Greens will ensure they get across the line.

ACT Leader David Seymour could be the new kingmaker in NZ politics. Picture: Fiona Goodall/Getty Images.
ACT Leader David Seymour could be the new kingmaker in NZ politics. Picture: Fiona Goodall/Getty Images.

WHEN WILL WE KNOW THE RESULT?

Polls close 7pm NZ time on Saturday, which is 5pm AEST. Results will then dribble in after that.

The official result isn't released until October 30.

However, on Saturday night we should have a good idea if Ms Ardern will remain PM and if Mr Peters' days as Deputy PM are over.

News.com.au will be covering the election results live on Saturday, October 17.

Originally published as 'Given up': Biggest loser in NZ election


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