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Our analysis: what it would take for a change of government

Nov 4th, 2008 | By | Category: Featured Article, Features

LABOUR has continued to trail National in the polls for the better part of two years, but as November 8 draws near, the left-wing bloc is within striking distance of the right in what is tipped to be a very tight contest.

The polls have been predicting an outright majority for National since late last year, although recent months have seen National dip below the 50% mark several times.

The last time a party won more than half of the vote was in 1951 when Sid Holland’s National Party consolidated its grip on power after the waterfront crisis. 

For National to win the majority of seats in the House, it requires 49.3% of the overall vote, with wasted votes (those votes cast for a party that does not cross the 5% threshold or gain an electorate seat) effectively bolstering the votes of more successful parties.

This becomes problematic if the Maori Party creates the expected overhang, enlarging Parliament to 125 MPs, meaning National would need 50.4% of the overall vote to reach power.

Political commentator and right-wing blogger David Farrar says on current polling, there are two possible government formations: National, United Future and ACT, or Labour, Green, Progressive, and Maori.

“Labour has been trailing National by 12 or 13 seats, and with the Greens looking at eight seats, it’s very close,” he says.

While the strength of political polling has been questioned in recent months, Mr Farrar’s rolling poll on is predicting an outright majority of 63 seats in a 122-seat Parliament for the right-wing bloc of National, Act and United Future. Labour, the Greens and Progressive would hold 57 seats, while the Maori Party would keep its current four.

Unlike previous elections, pundits have been able to monitor prospective coalitions with most of the minor parties announcing their support for either Labour or National.

Act and United Future have come out in support of National, while the Greens and the Progressives have opted for Labour.

With the notable exceptions of the Greens and Act, in the past few parties have stated their intentions before an election as this limits potential bargaining power in a coalition agreement. The best example of small-party muscle-flexing came in 1996, when NZ First held enormous sway over its coalition partner, National.

The Maori Party and NZ First have yet to decide which party they would support after the election. Maori Party  co-leader Pita Sharples has said the party would prefer Labour, and despite National leader John Key ruling out a deal including NZ First leader Winston Peters, Mr Peters has ruled nothing out.

The Maori Party is being tipped by political pundits as kingmaker because of its ability to skew the required number of MPs to form a government.

If the Maori Party sweeps the seven Maori electorates but wins only 3% of the party vote, entitling it to four seats, it will create an overhang, strengthening its hand in deciding the outcome of the election.

The latest Marae Digipoll has the three sitting Labour MPs holding their Maori seats, but Mr Farrar points out the irony of this occurring is that it could cost Labour the election.

“MMP does some wonderful things. It’s logically better for Labour to lose all seven seats,” he says, although he points out that this would cause long-term damage for future Labour candidates.

Complicating matters for a potential overhang further are the safe seats held by the Progressive Party’s Jim Anderton in Wigram and United Future’s Peter Dunne in Ohariu-Belmont.

If neither party attracts enough support, their electorate victories could help create a Parliament with 125 MPs, which would require 63 seats to command a majority.

Act avoids this on current polling, and while Mr Farrar does not expect them to cross the 5% threshold, he says they might improve their showing on the night.

While NZ First is polling below the 5% threshold and Mr Peters is trailing in his Tauranga electorate, people should not rule out NZ First, says Otago University professor Marian Simms.

From talking to people on the street, Prof Simms says people do not hate Mr Peters, and while she is predicting he will make it back into Parliament, she says it is a difficult one to pick.

She questions the veracity of the polls, and will be interested to see how successful they have been after the election.

Although electorate battles are not as important as the party vote in determining the overall outcome of the election, two high-profile seats will be fiercely contested on Saturday.

In Auckland Central, the incumbent Labour MP Judith Tizard is facing a stern challenge from young National candidate Nikki Hayes, and with a weak list placing, she needs to win to ensure a return to the House.

Despite the electorate being a “very red seat”, Mr Farrar refuses to write off Ms Hayes, warning against underestimating her.

Wellington Central is wide open, with the sitting MP Marian Hobbs retiring from Parliament and the National and Labour candidates both needing to win the electorate seat due to their rankings. 

Mr Farrar says Grant Robertson of Labour will get a big boost from Green MP Sue Kedgley’s endorsement of his candidacy, and that could be enough to beat Stephen Franks.

PICTURES: National Party leader John Key (right) and Prime Minister Helen Clark (left).

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is a graduate of Whitireia NewsWire. He's a reporter for BusinessWire (yes - he does like the wire theme), where he writes daily stories updating currency movements. And he still spends far too much time reading blogs.
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