The Poll Bludger caught about 45 minutes of the coverage of the New Zealand election on Sky News before casting his mind to the New South Wales by-elections, by which time he had developed an clear picture of a looming National Party victory. This was because the service Sky was using operated on raw early figures from conservative rural and small town booths without comparing them with equivalent booth results from the previous election – a matter simple enough that your humble correspondent managed it quite effectively on this site during today’s by-election count through Microsoft Excel and a lot of cutting and pasting.
The situation looked quite different by the close of play, with Helen Clark being able to deliver what effectively amounted to a victory speech at the end of the evening. The key to the situation was Labour’s ultimate lead over the Nationals of one parliamentary seat and 1.1 per cent, since both New Zealand First and United Future New Zealand had resolved to support whichever party led on these measures. Had the National Party remained ahead, their support of these parties along with ideological fellow travellers ACT New Zealand would have produced 62 seats compared with the opposing bloc’s 60. The other close shave, the Green Party’s narrow surplus over 5 per cent, was less consequential – a Labour-dominated coalition could have been constructed even if they had been wiped out, so long as Labour remained ahead of the Nationals. As it stands, there seems little chance that there will be a significant change in the current results, with the National Party looking more likely to drop an existing seat than Labour.
Labour (40.7 per cent, 50 seats): Although down two seats on 2002, Labor look set to finish one all-important seat ahead of the Nationals. The way the votes are currently stacked means there is more prospect of the Nationals losing a seat in late counting than Labour. Since both New Zealand First and United Future New Zealand have stated they will fall in behind the party that wins the most seats, Helen Clark will be able to stitch together a precarious multi-party government.
National (39.6 per cent, 49 seats): As agonising as it must have been to have watched their early lead slowly disappear, the outstanding feature of this election has been the recovery of the National Party under Don Brash. The party’s vote rocketed to 39.6 per cent from a mere 21.1 per cent in 2002, with their representation up from 27 seats to 49.
New Zealand First (5.8 per cent, 7 seats): Winston Peters looks like he will narrowly lose the seat of Tauranga which he has held since 1984 (initially for the National Party), but the party’s success in breaking the 5 per cent barrier gives him a list seat to fall back on. The party has nevertheless dropped six seats from its 2002 performance, although realistically any minor party can feel relieved if it reaches the 5 per cent threshold.
Green Party (5.1 per cent, 6 seats): The Greens have cut it very fine indeed but they do not look in danger of falling below the 5 per cent threshold, going on the precedent of 2002 when they polled 12.0 per cent of postal, pre-poll and absentees votes compared with 6.5 per cent of normal votes.
Maori Party (2.0 per cent, 4 seats): The new parliament will enjoy its first ever overhang due to the near-exclusivity of this party’s support among those who vote in the seven Maori electorates, of which it won four – leader Tariana Turia easily retained Te Tai Hauauru and three colleagues also enjoyed comfortable victories. The remaining three remain with Labor. The Maori Party’s party vote would only warrant two seats, which is why the new parliament will have 122 rather than the usual 120, with 62 required for a majority rather than the usual 61. New Zealand tabloids are no doubt calculating the cost to the taxpayer even as we speak, and this is unlikely to be the only query raised over MMP in the election’s aftermath.
United Future New Zealand (2.7 per cent, 3 seats): Party leader Peter Dunne easily retained the seat of Ohariu-Belmont which he has held since 1984 (initially for the Labour Party) with 46.8 per cent of the vote against Labour’s 24.3 per cent and the Nationals’ 20.0 per cent. This meant his party was able to hold three of the nine seats it won in 2002 despite plunging well below the threshold, from 6.8 per cent to 2.7 per cent.
ACT New Zealand (1.5 per cent, 2 seats): This party looked gone for all money just one fortnight ago, but Rodney Hide has scored his first ever victory as an electorate MP and will get a bonus list seat for his trouble. This means that every minor party that won seats in 2002 has survived, though each has also lost seats. Hide scored 44.1 per cent against 33.6 per cent for National incumbent Richard Worth, who will remain in parliament through a list seat.
Jim Anderton’s Progressive (1.2 per cent, 1 seats): The Poll Bludger had earlier suggested that a Jim Anderton victory in his electorate of Wigram was not a foregone conclusion. This was not one of my better calls – Anderton in fact increased his vote from 36.0 per cent to 48.5 per cent. However, the party vote for his Progressive Coalition was down from 1.7 per cent of 1.5 per cent, costing it its bonus list seat.