Billions of people cast their votes every year to elect the leaders of their respective countries. Eagle Coalition’s staff wants to highlight the importance of global democracy in its series called Election Spotlight. Each article in the series will provide an introductory overview of the government and politics of the country as well as the key figures and issues at stake in the upcoming election. Our staff will try to cover as many elections as possible, but emphasis will be given to countries who conduct fair and free elections based on Freedom House’s Freedom in the World rating system. Each Spotlight will be published just prior to the date of the election, with a follow-up article on the results and impact of the election coming once results are recorded.
While New Zealand’s parliamentary election was originally scheduled for September 19, as a result of a spike in COVID-19 cases there, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced in August that it would be delayed until October 17. With the previous election in 2017 requiring a coalition government to form, Ardern now seeks to achieve a majority in this year’s election.
What kind of government and politics does New Zealand have?
New Zealand is a constitutional monarchy. The Queen of New Zealand (currently Elizabeth II) is the head of state while the Prime Minister (currently Jacinda Ardern) is the head of government through a multi-party parliament.
The Parliament of New Zealand is unicameral – that is, consisting of only one house – and has 119 seats. Members are elected every three years using mixed-member proportional representation, a system where voters cast two votes: one for their district representative and one for a political party. 71 of the seats are given to the district winners and 48 are given to the political parties in proportion to the number of votes received. All New Zealand citizens 18 years and older are eligible to vote.
Prime Minister and Labour leader Jacinda Ardern (left) and National leader Judith Collins
Who are the major candidates and political parties?
New Zealand has multiple parties, with a few key parties being major players in its politics:
- Labour Party: The Labour Party is the center-left party in New Zealand, currently led by Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister in the last parliament. The party describes its founding principle as democratic socialism, though tends to be more centrist in practice. In the last parliament, Labour had 46 seats, but through a coalition with NZ First and the Greens, was able to form a majority government.
- National Party: Also known as the Nats, the National Party is the primary center-right party in New Zealand. After multiple leadership changes in 2020, Judith Collins now leads the party. The party generally espouses a big tent of ideology, but tends to favor social conservatism and economic liberalism, and is identifiable as the party of farmers and business in New Zealand. While having the most seats for one party in the previous parliament – 54 seats – it was unable to secure a coalition, making it the Official Opposition party.
- New Zealand First: Commonly known as NZ First, this is the nationalist party of New Zealand, currently led by Winston Peters. While generally centrist in its economic and social views, NZ First espouses its ideology through populist messaging, focusing on restrictive and protectionist immigration policies. In the last parliament it held nine seats.
- Green Party: The Green party is a left-wing party focusing primarily on environmentalism and liberal social policies. It is currently co-led by James Shaw and Marama Davidson, and in the last parliament held eight seats.
- ACT New Zealand: Usually known simply as ACT, this party is a smaller center-to-right-wing party in New Zealand. The party espouses a libertarian approach to government, favoring individualism over government regulation. In the last parliament it held only one seat.
Who is predicted to win?
While polls were close between the Nats and Labour early in 2020, by around March – partly as a result of the high approval ratings from Ardern’s COVID-19 response – Labour has pulled away in the polls. Labour most recently polled at 47%, compared to the National’s 32% (all other parties are polling less than 10%), leading to predictions that Labour will win a majority of seats outright without the need for a coalition government.
What are the key issues for this election?
Voter face three issues in this election, many of which are of wider concern globally as well as in New Zealand:
- COVID-19: As with many countries, New Zealand continues to grapple with the health and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Prime Minister Ardern took swift action in February, before the virus could spread widely in New Zealand, by locking down the border to foreigners and forcing New Zealanders to isolate for two weeks upon return. As a result, New Zealand had zero cases for nearly all of June. Popularity with Ardern’s response has given her party a substantial boost in the polls.
- Climate Change: As an island nation, climate change poses a more intimate challenge to New Zealand, with scientists suggesting a rise in sea levels could create significant coastal erosion and flooding. Labour seeks to achieve net zero emissions in New Zealand by 2050, and while National also espouses support for mitigating policies, skepticism of their commitment to such policies has undermined their environmental support
- Referenda: In addition to the parliamentary election, voters in New Zealand will also cast ballots for two referenda: whether to legalize cannabis, and whether to enact the End of Life Choice Act of 2019 to allow voluntary euthanasia for those with a terminal illness and less than six months to live, with the sign-off of two doctors. Recent polling suggests strong support (64%) in favor of the End of Life Choice Act, while having divided support (49%) for legalizing cannabis.