New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark today called an election for November 8, initiating what seems an astoundingly long eight-week campaign. Wikipedia scribes explain that while the latest possible date was November 15, the country’s elections are normally held in September. With Labour tanking in the polls throughout the year, Clark has presumably taken a Howard-style option of a late election and a long campaign in the hope her rival, National Party leader John Key, will stumble before polling day.
Failing that, Clark can hope that New Zealand’s mixed-member proportional electoral system allows her to cobble together some kind of majority with minor parties. Currently represented are populist New Zealand First (seven seats out of 121 at the 2005 election), who are presumably in trouble following Winston Peters’ recent travails; the Green Party (six seats), who normally hover around the deadly 5 per cent representation threshold but can be expected to do well if Labour is on the nose; the Maori Party, who hold four of the seven designated Maori seats and for all I know are expected to do as well this time; religious-cum-centrist United Future New Zealand (three seats), who will need leader Peter Dunne to hold his electorate seat of Ohariu to maintain representation; free-market liberal Act New Zealand (three seats), who likewise need leader Rodney Hide to retain Epsom; and the Progressive Party (one seat), whose future is presumably tied to that of sole parliamentary member Jim Anderton, 70-year-old member for the electorate of Wigram.
Labour won 50 seats in 2005 and retained government in coalition with the Progressive Party, backed by New Zealand First (Peters was made Foreign Minister, but stood down a fortnight ago pending a police investigation into alleged failure to disclose donations) and United Future. The Nationals won 48 seats, up from 27 in 2002.