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A strong opposition is one of the most important defining features of any robust democratic system. The primary function of the opposition is to hold the government of the day to account, providing the necessary checks and balances to keep those in power honest.

A government without a strong and responsible opposition to hold it to account, especially when it has the kind of impressive numbers that the present Labour government in New Zealand has, can seem to ride roughshod over policy matters and the manner in which it runs the country’s affairs – something that is increasingly being commented upon by political commentators and observers both here and across the Tasman.

To say that New Zealand’s main opposition party – the New Zealand National Party –  is a mess would be an understatement. It seems to have been in free fall across over the past few years with no hope of anyone stemming its tumble to the bottom. The latest poll has it at a pathetic 21 percent, badly in need of urgent resuscitation. Unfortunately, for its supporters though, there is no apparent solution in sight.

In the past five years it has miserably failed to come up with a stable leadership. It’s power dynamics have been out in the open for anybody to see and its present leader, Judith Collins, who once had a reputation of calling a spade a spade in her fiery parliamentary debates has recently come a cropper resorting to name calling as she did when she called virologist Siouxsie Wiles “a big, fat hypocrite.”

The once-serious contender for New Zealand’s prime ministership also indulged in an embarrassing on air spat with journalist Indira Stewart, accusing her of harbouring a pollical agenda in her questioning.

Those sorts of meltdowns, and that too very public, are not characteristic of any leader especially in New Zealand; least of all a leader who hopes to be a challenger to a hugely popular prime minister with a great sense for optics, aspiring to replace her at the next elections in 2023.

This government gives plenty of opportunity to critique its policies and its inexplicable intransigence in dealing with all-important issues like immigration and its Covid-19 related policies like (until recently) a tardy vaccination rollout, its sub-optimal managed isolation system, continued uncertainty around closed borders, its persistence with its total elimination policy and a lot else.

But with its internal ructions and the obvious deep distrust among its top leaders, the National Party falls woefully short of projecting a credible alternative to the Labour led government’s policies, lethargy and inaction on a slew of important issues that affect New Zealand’s immigrants, professionals, businesses and investors. In short, it is repeatedly failing to deliver its core function of holding to account the Jacinda Ardern government. Its energies are frittered away in petty internal politics, the recent reshuffle being a case in point.

With two years ago until the next election, National seems to be in no hurry to get its act together as it limps from one PR disaster to the next. There is no credible leader being projected as a challenger come 2023. As every day passes, it looks more and more certain that it will not be Judith who will the party into the next election.

The party seems to be bereft of both credible candidates to project as leaders and ideas to construct a workable strategy – which, in any case, will be difficult to craft in the absence of a strong leader, which does not seem to be happening any time soon. Its choices seem limited to either trying to recycle an old leader or trying a completely untested quantity.

Meanwhile David Seymour’s Act has obviously got its act together and is snapping at National’s heels at 15 percent in the recent poll. With the present state of affairs, National is not only letting down its shrinking following, but also all Kiwis in having abrogated its responsibility of providing a strong and credible opposition to the Labour led government.

First appeared in The Indian Weekender dated 24 September 2021