Over the weekend, voters in New Zealand delivered an indecisive result. The ruling National Party won the most votes, but fell just short of a majority in Parliament. As we hear from Neal Conan in today’s Pacific News Minute, negotiations to form a coalition government are expected to take weeks.
Eight weeks ago, Prime Minister Bill English and his center right National Party looked set to waltz to a comfortable majority. Then, six weeks ago, a charismatic new leader, 37 year old Jacinda Ardern injected life into the floundering Labour Party and suddenly the campaign looked too close to call.
But after Saturday’s vote, both of the major parties found themselves looking around for coalition partners.
Labour won 45 seats on its own and can count on the Greens for 7 more. The National Party won 58 and one more from the Libertarian ACT party. But a Prime Minister needs 61 votes to form a government in Wellington, which leaves populist Winston Peters as the kingmaker.
After his New Zealand First Party won seven seats on Saturday, Peters wouldn’t say which way he was leaning. Described as a bit of a maverick, Peters has served in coalitions with both the Nationals and Labour in the past. NZ First is best known for its anti-immigration stance.
In 2004 Peters said, “We are being dragged into the status of an Asian colony.” Most analysts believe that NZ First is more likely to wind up with the Nationals.
About 15 percent of the vote remains to be counted, that’s from New Zealanders abroad and from people who registered on Election Day. In the past that special vote has tilted to the left, so that may change the arithmetic by a vote or two.
The biggest loser in the election was the Maori Party, which won its first two parliamentary seats in 2014 but none this time around.