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While the Labour Party has been deservedly feted for its unprecedented 2020 election victory, it is the New Zealand voter who is the true hero for crafting a result that goes well beyond the power they gave Labour to govern alone – in itself an absolute rarity in any MMP system.

If you look beyond that absolute majority for one party – which defeats the very purpose of a system like MMP – it is clear that result was no fluke but was thoughtfully crafted. By none other than the New Zealand voter, giving themselves a parliament that truly reflects contemporary New Zealand.

Consider this:

  • New Zealand is the first self-governing modern nation to have given women the right to vote 107 years ago. Today, the newly formed Parliament comprises 48 women.
  • In recent years a frequently heard lament is the disengagement of young people from politics. As if to address that issue, the Kiwi voter has ensured 25 per cent of the Parliament to be below the age of 40.
  • Despite handing a landslide win for Labour making the party uncharacteristically monolithic in a MMP system, the Kiwi voter has ensured that three minor parties espousing a diversity of values and agendas are in Parliament (Greens, ACT and Maori Party). In that sense the clever voter has kept alive the spirit of MMP, giving a four-party system for governance over the next three years.
  • With a strategic left/centre-left/indigenous seat count of 76 in a 120-seat House and a 55 per cent collective vote share, the Kiwi voter has deliberately left out the right/centre right bloc collectively (National + ACT) with just 43 seats and a 35 per cent vote share (all numbers might change marginally in the final count due November 6).
  • Most Kiwis voted strategically enough to get three minor parties in at the expense of one major party, the National Party, a clear no-confidence in that party’s policies, programmes and leadership.
  • The Kiwi voter proved beyond doubt that big dollar appeasement strategies don’t wash as New Zealand First found out, being booted out despite its much touted multi-billion dollar Provincial Fund and with no one credible in sight to succeed the charismatic Winston Peters.
  • The new Parliament comprises 11 per cent rainbow community people (world’s highest)
  • This Parliament is the most ethnically diverse in the country’s history with the first ever Latin American, African and Sri Lankan MPs.
  • Proudly for Kiwi-Indians, it has the first ever Indian origin electoral MP (though there have been List MPs earlier).
  • Several MPs from the Pacific Islands, giving island people their biggest ever presence of elected representatives in the Labour party.

From post-election analyses it is evident that many traditionally National voters, particularly from the provincial and rural farming bloc, having given up on National going by its dismal polling all along, strategically voted for Labour to give it an absolute majority to help keep the Greens at bay, because of policies that the agricultural sector perceives as too extreme and radical.

There is no doubt that this result was a big tick in confidence for Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s leadership through the Covid-19 crisis – something that has made her a globally feted personality. Her popularity, halo or pixie dust as some have put it would have been a challenge for any opposing party to counter.

However, the National Party’s fatal penchant to jump from one major disaster to another with metronomic regularity throughout Labour’s first term added momentum to the Labour juggernaut in no small measure. A series of leadership changes, an exodus of trusted old hands, messy exits, faulty policy making, miscalculated projections left little room for doubt in the mind of the voter.

To top it all was leader Judith Collins’ pronouncements and demeanour during the debates and in public during the run up to the polls would have made the decision that much easier for several of the so-called ‘undecideds’. While her ‘crusher’ leadership style has its votaries, it is clearly a shrinking number, as the result has abundantly shown.

This new Parliament clearly reflects New Zealand’s growing diversity today – a fact that was either lost on the National Party or was deliberately ignored to please a certain constituency.

The Kiwi voter seems to have rejected that narrow view of New Zealand rather resoundingly. Media pictures of the new Labour and National caucuses portrayed the difference tellingly. As one media commentator put it, the difference in the racial composition of the two was stark.

New Zealand voters have given themselves the opportunity to hear from multiple voices and influences with the leadership that demonstrably believes in and stands for the values of inclusiveness, compassion and a well-meaning approach to the future of the planet and our future generations.

Going forward, however, what the Kiwi voter must now contend with is a monobloc government, never seen before in New Zealand’s electoral history since MMP was adopted in the 1990s.

The leadership has its work cut out.

To be inclusive in the exclusive mandate that the Kiwi voter has given it, the challenge is massive for Labour and its leadership – especially navigating the New Zealand ship across choppy Covid-19 waters.

Though it is famously said a day is a very long time in politics, three years is not. The clever Kiwi voter will be keenly watching.


Dev Nadkarni is Founding Editor and Editor-at-Large, The Indian Weekender 

First appeared in the 22 October 2020 edition of The Indian Weekender.