Introduction to New Zealand Politics

It’s election time here in New Zealand. The national election is on September 20th, and just like in the US, placards line the streets with the smiling faces of candidates promising to give the people what they think they want or need.

But the political parties here are different and there are more of them!


Here’s the way I understand the political system here.

The current Prime Minister of New Zealand, John Key, is a member of the National Party. This center-right party also controls the Parliament—that’s why he’s Prime Minister as we’ll see later. National controls almost 50% of the seats in Parliament.

The National Party’s archrival is the Labour Party which is center-left and socially progressive controlling 27% of Parliament.

The Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand is for environmentalism, non-violence and social justice (11% of Parliament).

IMG_1329New Zealand First is a populist, nationalistic party whose aims include reducing immigration and buying back former state assets which had been sold (7% of Parliament).

The Maori Party focuses on the “rights and interests of Maori” as does the Mana Party (1% of Parliament). The Mana Party has recently joined forces with the Internet Party to form the Mana-Internet Party.

Finally, United Future is a Christian-based party with the byline “Family, Community, Outdoors.” (1% of Parliament) Strange, huh? Can you imagine a United States political party campaigning on “outdoors”.

All of the above parties currently have some representation in Parliament.

But wait there are even more parties and all of them are jostling for some representation in the upcoming parliament or forming alliances with other parties.

maoir party copyACT supports the rights of the individual and is for limiting centralized government.

NZ Independent Coalition is for direct democracy and transparency of government.

The Conservative Party is against career politicians and vows to keep governernment honest.

1Law 4AllParty’s aim is to overturn the Treaty of Waitangi, New Zealand’s founding document uniting the Maori and the British.

Then there’s the Aotearoa Legalize Cannabis Party (I think we had that party back in Colorado as well).

The Internet Party which is for among other things—cheap Internet.

The Pirate Party of New Zealand focuses on technological issues including net neutrality.

Finally, the Join Australia Movement Party says the hell with all of it and advocates uniting with Australia.


So there you have it. But how does the Kiwi government work.

Well, it’s a parliamentary representative democratic monarchy.

Queen Elizabeth II is the head of state; that’s the monarchy part of it. The Governor-General in New Zealand is her representative here, which is primarily a symbolic role.

Then similar to the United States, there are three branches of government: executive, judiciary, and legislative (Parliament).

The head of the executive branch is the Prime Minister who overseas a cabinet made up of members of Parliament. The executive branch administers and enforces laws.


The judiciary reviews laws by hearing and deciding cases.

Parliament, the legislative branch, has 120 seats and writes the laws.

Elections—this is where it gets tricky or at least is different than in the United States. A voting system called Mixed-member proportional representation, abbreviated MMP, which originated in Germany, is used. At least a fair number of people are against this system which they feel dilutes and distorts governance. Here’s how it works.

During elections, which occur every three years, voters cast two votes, one for a party and one for a representative from their electorate or district (there are 71 of these). As an added twist, the representative that you vote for doesn’t have to be from the same party that you voted for with your party vote.

The percentage of votes for a given party determines the makeup of Parliament. If a party gets 30% of the party votes, it will get 30% of the seats in Parliament. These seats (30% of 210=63) will be filled first by any electorates in that party who won in their districts, and the rest will be filled by other representatives from what is termed the party list.

internetmanaFor example, a party may get 10% of the popular vote but none of its representatives may have won in the electorate vote. In this case, it is still entitled to 10% of the representation in Parliament; these seats will all be filled by representatives from the party list.

How about the Prime Minister? The leader of the party with the most seats won is the Prime Minister.


Since no one party often has a majority in Parliament, parties often form alliances or support other parties that advance their agendas.

What are the top concerns of the New Zealand electorate? manaThese vary but generally contain some mix of the following: education, health care, jobs, wages, price of housing, child poverty, inequality, law and order/crime, price of electricity, Maori relations.

Although it has also become markedly more prevalent in the United States, there is a distinct tone here that the state is responsible to address and fix all wrongs or inequalities, real or otherwise.

Reading the newspapers here and listening to the politicians on TV, it sounds like the same old stuff as in any election. They bark and criticize one another and there are mini-scandals emerging as election time draws near.IMG_1330

In August, one month prior to the election, a book Dirty Politics was conveniently released, in general critical of the ruling National party and causing a minor-stir of controversy.

One refreshing thing is campaigning only seemed to start about 2 ½ months before the election, whereas in the United States it seems to have become on-going. In fact, one reason we left the US was to avoid the two or more years of campaigning one has to endure there prior to the presidential election.

election copyAll the different parties do seem to provide a vigor to the discourse that is often lacking in the United States. Tonight, only two weeks before the election, a televised debate is being held with EIGHT different candidates taking part.

One interesting twist was at least in one debate, there was what’s called a no-sledging rule. Sledging is a cricket term referring to insulting or verbally intimidating an opposing player similar to the chatter in baseball. The participants in this particular political debate were not allowed to denigrate any of their opponents or to criticize any of their opponents’ policies. Instead, they had to present what they planned to do and why. How refreshing. I can only imagine with this rule in place, many of our US candidates would be truly speechless.


One thought on “Introduction to New Zealand Politics

  1. That’s pretty cool….with so many parties, I take it that a simple majority wins, right? Second, third, fourth ect follow by the numbers. However a debate with no slams, insults applied or otherwise doesn’t sound like much fun…..Oh, it’s supposed to be taken seriously ? What a novel idea !!!!

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