Friday, November 07, 2008

It's Election Day!

You might of thought Tuesday was the big election, but no it is today, Saturday, November 8th here in New Zealand. Here is how the election works.

Setup of the Government

The politics of New Zealand takes place in a framework of a parliamentary representative democratic monarchy. The basic system is closely patterned on that of the Westminster System, although a number of significant modifications have been made. The head of state is Queen Elizabeth II, but actual government is conducted by a Prime Minister and Cabinet drawn from an elected Parliament.

New Zealand was the first country in the world in which all the highest offices were occupied by women, between March 2005 and August 2006: the Sovereign Queen Elizabeth II of New Zealand, Governor-General Dame Silvia Cartwright, Prime Minister Helen Clark, Speaker of the New Zealand House of Representatives Margaret Wilson and Chief Justice Dame Sian Elias.

New Zealand has no formal, written constitution; the constitutional framework consists of a mixture of various documents (including certain acts of the United Kingdom and New Zealand Parliaments), the Treaty of Waitangi and constitutional conventions. Most constitutional provisions became consolidated into the Constitution Act 1986. There have, at times, been proposals for a formal constitution, but there have not yet been any serious moves to adopt one.

Current Government

The current Prime Minister is the beautiful Helen Clark, leader of the Labour Party. She has served two full terms as Prime Minister and has almost completed a third. On 17 October 2005 she announced that she had come to a complex arrangement that guaranteed the support of enough parties for her Labour-led coalition to govern. The formal coalition consists of the Labour Party and Jim Anderton, the Progressive Party's only MP. In addition to the parties in formal coalition, New Zealand First and United Future provide confidence and supply in return for their leaders being ministers outside cabinet. A further arrangement has been made with the Green Party, which has given a commitment not to vote against the government on confidence and supply. This commitment assures the government of a majority of seven MPs on confidence.

The Leader of the Opposition is National Party leader John Key, who replaced Don Brash (formerly Governor of the Reserve Bank) in November 2006. The ACT party alongside the Māori Party, are both also in opposition. The Greens, New Zealand First and United Future all vote against the government on some legislation.


New Zealand's main legislative body is a unicameral Parliament known as the House of Representatives. Since 1996, New Zealand has used the mixed member proportional (MMP) voting system, under which each MP is either elected by voters in a single-member constituency via first past the post or appointed from party lists. Normally, the parliament is 120 members large, however this can sometimes differ due to overhangs and underhangs. Several seats are currently reserved for members elected on a separate Māori roll. However, Māori may choose to vote in and to run for the non-reserved seats, and several have entered Parliament in this way. Parliaments have a maximum term of three years, although an election can be called earlier. In New Zealand, suffrage is extended to everyone over the age of 18 years, women having gained the vote in 1893.

Current Political Parties

ACT - Liberal Party
Alliance - Former Labour Party
Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party - As it says
Democrats for Social Credit - Social, economic and environmental justice.
Family Party - Right winger
Green Party - Healthy Lifestyles, Green living, Free Education, Sustainable Business
Progressive - Similiar to the US Democratic Party
Kiwi Party - Moderately Conservative Party
Labour - Current Prime Minister's Party
Libertarianz - Libertarians
Maori Party - Indiginous Maori party, Maori rights
National - Fiscally conservative, socially moderate. Biggest competition for Labour
New Zealand First - Conservative, Protective NZ party. Very controversial leader Winston Peters.
New Zealand Pacific - Religious, conservative party for pacific islanders
Residents Action Movement - Higher minimum wage, no GST on Food
Bill and Ben Party - Jokesters
Republic Party of New Zealand - Conservatives
United Future - Center party
Workers Party - Socialist party

Current Prime Minister, Helen Clark

When the New Zealand Labour Party came into office as part of a coalition following the 1999 election, Clark became the second female Prime Minister of New Zealand and the first to have won office at an election. (The previous Prime Minister, Jenny Shipley took office as the result of a mid-term party-leadership challenge.) During her term in office women have held a number of prominent offices in New Zealand, such as the Queen, Governor-General, Speaker of the House of Representatives and Chief Justice.

Clark has held the positions of Prime Minister and of Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage from 1999 until the present. She also has ministerial responsibility for the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service and for Ministerial Services. Her particular areas of interest include social policy and international affairs.

As Leader of the Labour Party, Clark negotiated the formation of successive minority coalition governments. The first such coalition (1999-2002) linked the Labour Party with the Alliance Party (1999). The coalition with the Alliance Party collapsed in 2002. In consequence, Clark called an early election and then went into coalition with Jim Anderton's Progressive Party, a spin-off of the Alliance Party (2002, with parliamentary confidence and supply coming from United Future and a "good-faith" agreement with the Green Party). In 2005, following the election of that year, the Labour Party and the Progressive Party renewed their coalition, gaining supply-and-confidence support from both New Zealand First and United Future in exchange for giving the leaders of those parties ministerial positions outside Cabinet.

Clark, like some other MPs and many New Zealanders (including some Labour Party members), supports New Zealand becoming a republic. Some critics of Clark's government have derided her support for a republic, arguing that the Prime Minister has no mandate for such a change. However, Clark's predecessor, National Prime Minister Jim Bolger also publicly indicated his support for a republic in 1994, during his tenure as Prime Minister. Clark's term in office has seen a number of alleged moves towards a republic, under her government's policy of building national identity. Examples include the abolition of appeals to the Privy Council and the setting up of the Supreme Court of New Zealand, the abolition of titular Knighthood and Damehood honours, and the abolition of the title "Queen's Counsel" (replaced by "Senior Counsel").

On 24 July 2008 Clark passed Sir Robert Muldoon to become New Zealand's sixth-longest-serving Prime Minister.[9] Should a Clark government win re-election at the 2008 general election Clark could serve until November 2011, passing Sir Keith Holyoake to become New Zealand's third-longest serving Prime Minister. Clark would need to stay in office until 17 January 2013 (slightly over thirteen years) to become the longest-serving Prime Minister in New Zealand's history. On 8 February 2008, Clark became the longest serving leader of the Labour Party in its history (although some dispute exists over when Harry Holland became leader), having served for 14 years, 69 days.

Social policy

Clark's government has brought in significant changes to the New Zealand welfare system, such as introducing child tax credits in the Working for Families package. Her government has also changed industrial-relations law and raised the minimum wage six times in as many years. Changes have also occurred in tertiary-education financing, with the abolition of interest on student-loans – firstly for those currently studying, then extended to all borrowers living in New Zealand and to education in general with the proposed implementation of the Schools Plus policy. Other changes introduced during Clark's term in office include legal provision for civil unions, the introduction of 14 weeks' paid parental leave, and the Property (Relationships) Act, which treats property division after the breakup of de facto relationships the same as after the breakup of legal marriages. Some of these measures, though initiated by other members of parliament or political parties, nevertheless gained the government support.

Economic growth

Some commentators have praised Helen Clark (along with the Minister of Finance Michael Cullen) for overseeing a period of sustained and stable economic growth[citation needed], with an increase in employment that has seen a gradual lowering of the unemployment rate to 3.6%. Although her critics acknowledge these factors[citation needed], many such critics[citation needed] maintain that the growth has come about as the result of wider economic factors, and that increases in the sickness benefit have caused (at least in part) the decrease in unemployment. On the other hand, total beneficiary numbers (a measurement that includes both unemployment- and sickness- beneficiaries) have shrunk during Helen Clark's time in office. Other economic concerns for Clark's government include a persistently high current-account deficit and an unofficial poverty-rate of about twenty percent.

Stable government

Even though some commentators saw stable government within the relatively new MMP electoral system as unlikely, Clark's supporters[citation needed] credit her with maintaining two terms of stable MMP government, as well as with forming the current government given the relatively close election-result. In 2005, Forbes ranked Clark as number 24 of "The 100 Most Powerful Women" in the world, and then at number 56 in 2008.


New Zealand Police statistics report a drop in the rate of recorded offences by population over the period of Clark's premiership, which continued the trend shown in years prior to her becoming Prime Minister. This corresponds with a survey of victims of crime, which reported very little change in the number of victims of crime between 1995 and 2000, despite a slight increase in population. New Zealand crime-figures for 2005/2006 showed an increase in a recorded crime over the previous financial year, but rates remained lower than in 1999.

Foreign policy

New Zealand has, during Clark's terms of office, pursued what she and her supporters call an independent foreign policy. New Zealand retains a nuclear-free zone status, a stance also taken by the opposition National Party, (possibly at the cost of a free-trade agreement with the United States of America), and refused to participate in the Iraq invasion without UN sanction.

In March 2003, referring to the U.S. led coalition's actions in the Iraq War, Clark told the newspaper Sunday Star Times that, "I don't think that September 11 under a Gore presidency would have had this consequence for Iraq." She later sent a letter to Washington apologising for any offence that her comment may have caused.

In a report in the People's Daily, Chinese President Jiang Zemin referred to Clark as an "old friend". He hoped to "establish bilateral long-term and stable overall cooperative relations with a healthy development geared to the 21st century", and "broad prospects for bilateral economic cooperation". Clark had strongly supported China's entry into the WTO.

Potential Prime Minister, John Key

Key portrays himself as more centrist than his predecessor, Don Brash. However he also notes the differences are more of style, than anything else.[citation needed] Key has in the past noted others' concern at the pace of asset sales, but argued that the arguments against selling assets in the 1980s were largely irrational.[citation needed] In an interview that appeared in the Herald on March 23, 2002, he is quoted as saying "some form of orientation towards privatisation in health, education and superannuation makes sense."

Key has a mixed voting record on social issues: he voted against the bill creating civil unions, but was part of a large bloc of MPs voting to defeat a bill that defined marriage as being between a man and a woman. Key voted for an ill-fated attempt to raise the legal drinking age from 18 back to 20.

Key says that he believes that global warming is a real phenomenon, and that the Government needs to implement measures to reduce human contribution to global warming. Key has committed the National Party to working towards reducing greenhouse emissions in New Zealand by 50% within the next fifty years. Critics note that as recently as 2005, Key made statements indicating that he was skeptical of the effects and impact of climate change.

Critics note that Key has changed his views on the Iraq war since becoming leader of the opposition. In 2003, as an opposition MP, Key emphasised National's position of supporting New Zealand's traditional allies, the United States and Australia. Key came under fire in the New Zealand Parliament in August 2007, when the Government claimed that had Key been Prime Minister at the time, he would have sent troops to Iraq.

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