New Zealand's 2023 Election: A battle for the middle ground
BY LOUIS SAMARASINGHE
It was only last year when Jacinda Ardern announced her shock resignation as the Prime Minister of New Zealand. Ardern had become the first Prime Minister to win an absolute majority since New Zealand’s electoral system was reformed in 1998, leading her Labor Party to victory with 65 of the 120 seats in the 2020 election. Now, October is imminent and with it, election season. Labor’s hopes now rest with Ardern's successor, Chris Hipkins; can he steady the ship, or will he fall to the rise from the Right?
Currently, the polls have taken a downturn for the Labor leader, with Hipkins unable to enjoy the high approval ratings his predecessor had. The National Party now leads the way, albeit with neither major party predicted to get anywhere close to the 61 seats needed for a majority. With crime on the rise and an imploding worker shortage problem, the National Party has painted itself as the Party of pragmatism and stability to improve its polling. Their promise of tougher sentencing, combined with investment into rehabilitation, is proving an enticing set of policies for voters.
However, the National Party is not without challenge. They are still seen as the party of the wealthy and privileged, and their leader, Christopher Luxon, is a relatively new and untested politician. Labor, on the other hand, is still riding on the coattails of Ardern's popularity, sparked by a strong track record on social issues such as healthcare and education whilst in office.
Aside from the two major parties, a number of smaller parties could play a significant role in the upcoming election. The Green Party is the most successful of these. New Zealand is a country famed for its natural beauty, and Kiwis take immense pride in their support for ambitious environmental policy, championed most clearly by the Green Party.
The ACT Party is also gaining ground, and they are appealing to voters who are looking for a more libertarian alternative. With their support mostly being stolen from the National Party, Labor may actually seek to gain from the growth of the new right-of-centre party.
Undoubtedly, this election is a battle for the middle ground. Labor and the National Party are both trying to prove they can be the one's to kickstart the economy after a period of global turmoil. Whilst the island nation fared better than most during the pandemic, young Kiwis are emigrating faster than ever before. Opportunities for skilled workers and graduates are becoming increasingly less attractive than those offered in both Australia and Britain, who are welcoming such individuals with open arms. Ultimately, vicotry will come to whichever party offers the most appealing vision for a future filled with economic opportunity and prosperity.
Current polls are signalling that there will be a right-wing coalition replacing the Labor majority once all the votes are counted on election night. Whilst polls do put those on the right far short of an overall majority, coalitions are commonplace in New Zealand. Therefore, it is likely that the National Party will be the largest in parliament, but they will need to rely on support from the anti-tax, pro-business ACT Party to govern. However, if 2020 is anything to go by, Labor and the Greens are never a force to be underestimated in New Zealand. Strong polling for the Greens could be enough for Labor to form a governing coalition if they don’t take too much of a hammering themselves. All of this makes the election looks set to be close. Just a minor deviation from current polling on election day could allow Labor and The Greens to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
There is, however, an X-factor in this election: New Zealand First. The populist, nationalist party has been a coalition member on both sides of the spectrum and their polling looks positive for 2023, with seat projections edging ever closer to double digits. As recently as 2017, they went into coalition with Labor, sweeping Jacinda Ardern to power. They have a history of being the electoral kingmakers yet strong polling from the Greens and ACT could make this less likely this time around. However, their tough-on-crime, left-wing economic policies attract voters from both sides. This makes it tough for pollsters to calculate who will lose out if NZ First gain too many seats, with the potential to harm the seat tallies of both the Nationals and Labor who already face pressure from ACT and the Greens respectively.
Image: Flickr/ Luxon from Botany site