For the sake of completeness, a post on the finalisation of coalition negotiations by Helen Clark’s Labour Government in New Zealand is in order. Last month’s election saw a National Party resurgence at the expense of the minor parties, all but one of whom (the Maori Party) emerged with substantially fewer seats. This gravely complicated Clark’s task of stitching together a majority, since she faced a disparate assortment of minor parties including several who refused to work with each other. Most expected that Labour would reach an accommodation with the Green Party, so that the strengthened position of the National Party would have had the paradoxical effect of shifting the Government to the left. So there was widespread surprise, much of it unpleasant, when Clark unveiled a deal with right-of-centre parties Winston Peters’ New Zealand First and United Future New Zealand which gave the job of Foreign Minister to Peters – a man sometimes described by his harsher critics as "racist and xenophobic".
All of which has proved very confusing for Australian observers familiar with the certainties of single-member electorates and majority government. The Poll Bludger’s local rag, The West Australian, managed three errors in 18 words this morning when it reported that this "bizarre deal" was "the only way Ms Clarke (sic) could form a minority government after a poor result in last month’s election". There is little excuse for such befuddlement over the horse-trading that inevitably follows elections held under proportional representation, which is a major feature of democracy throughout mainland Europe. Charles Richardson had some acute observations on the process in today’s Crikey email:
New Zealand has finally got itself a new government, and it’s already clear to see who are the big losers. The Greens, despite strongly supporting Helen Clark’s Labour Party during the campaign, have been left out in the cold, and now say they will abstain on votes of confidence.
This is a real lesson in power politics. Being too close to Labour was the Greens’ undoing: it meant they could be taken for granted. The other minor parties could threaten to support the National Party, and therefore had to be bought off. But the Greens stuck in the Labour camp until it was too late – until Clark had stitched together enough other deals to no longer need them.
In Germany, remember, the Greens at least contemplated going into coalition with the right (the “Jamaican option” – black, green and yellow), although it didn’t work out that way. In New Zealand, they tried to show responsibility by portraying themselves as a reliable partner for Labour. But reliability isn’t always an advantage in politics.
On the other side, ACT, the NZ libertarian party, has the same problem. They succeeded against the odds in retaining a foothold in parliament, but their influence will be negligible. They were unable to influence the new coalition because they were too close to National to join in the bidding war.
Instead, New Zealand risks becoming an international laughing-stock with the protectionist Winston Peters as foreign minister – but outside the cabinet, and reserving the right to ignore collective responsibility. According to The New Zealand Herald, Greens co-leader Rod Donald "predicted it would be a ‘reactionary’ Government and said many of the demands Labour had accepted from NZ First and United Future were ‘socially, economically or environmentally destructive’."