New Zealand’s long campaign to get itself a seat on the coveted United Nations Security Council came to fruition last month, when it quite comfortably won votes from 145 of 193 UN member states. It needed just 129 on the day. Turkey and Spain were the two other contenders. Spain won the second of the two seats up for grabs this year, with Turkey losing out. Both Spain and Turkey have each held seats only a few years ago but New Zealand has regained a seat after two long decades.
The Security Council is made up of 15 seats, with five of them being permanent seats. These are the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Russia and China. These were the five biggest nations on the Allied side in World War II, immediately after the conclusion of which the United Nations was formed. The five can also be seen to represent each of the post-war but now anachronistic classification of first, second and third worlds (though many ‘first’ worlders still use ‘third world’ in mostly a disparaging way, while the almost never-used ‘second world’ has completely vanished behind an imaginary iron curtain, as it were).
The 10 non-permanent seats are rotated every two years, across groupings of countries – so New Zealand will hold the seat for 2015-16 (Angola, Malaysia and Venezuela were elected unopposed in their respective groupings last month). New Zealand belongs to the ‘Western Europe and Other States seats’ grouping, and is the smallest among the three countries that contested in that grouping. Countries are known to splurge millions of dollars to garner votes from UN member states to get themselves on the powerful council.
The New Zealand Government, though, has been at pains to stress that it has run its own campaign on a shoestring, throwing in a junket or two for a few leaders from around the world in its salubrious destinations around the country. It has also been actively canvassing its most trusted friends in its very own neck of the woods – the Pacific.
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The very design of New Zealand’s Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) electoral system is meant to ensure a good balance between different political persuasions. The system affords most segments of the political spectrum a share of voice in parliament subject to meeting well-defined, minimal electoral criteria. So, usually, even the party that wins the largest share of votes has to win the support of minor parties to ultimately get the numbers required to govern, ensuring a sense of pluralism.
The party winning the highest share of votes could still find itself out of power if a clutch of opposing smaller parties cobble together a coalition that tote up a share of vote bigger than the single largest vote-winning party if it cannot exceed the opposing coalition’s total even with its own coalition partners. Pre-election opinion polls can scarcely predict with certainty what the post election government could look like.
So even though Prime Minister John Key and the National Party continually scored high in the popularity stakes in repeated opinion polls in the run up to the elections, the complex dynamics of the MMP system meant that a win couldn’t be taken for granted. Wild speculation and political punditry were rife, as always, in the weeks before the polls and though everyone had an opinion, no one really made firm predictions.
Which is understandable because often, the formation of the government following elections finally depends on a minor party – a case of the tail wagging the dog – resulting in rich spoils for the party that plays kingmaker. Veteran New Zealand First Party leader Winston Peters has successfully played kingmaker before and was obviously hoping for a sense of de ja vu this time too, in what might well be his last elections, but that did not happen. Though eminently poised to be the kingmaker, the National Party’s thumping victory simply left him out in the cold.
TThe longish drive from Faleolo Airport to downtown Apia is always a great opportunity for a grassroots view of the goings on in Samoa – especially when your driver, even if loquacious, is eloquently so. Views from the street are more often than not strongly biased toward the hoi polloi but they’re straight from the heart and valid nonetheless. The cabbie barometer is one of the best tipping tools a scribe can have anywhere in the world. It’s always perceptive, even philosophical. “From New Zealand?” asks chatty cabbie. Before I even utter ‘yes’, he continues: “Lived there a few years ago. Very nice place, nice people, nice roads, nice houses, but I came back in a year.”
“Too cold?” I ask. “No. Cold is okay. Too expensive – you pay for everything, for eating, drinking, you need money for everything. Not like here. In New Zealand, no money, no life, no good.” No need for money in Samoa? Not so much, he says. He lives in a nice ancestral home. There’s plenty of family, extended family and friends for support. There’s a patch to cultivate vegetables and fruit. There’s lots of fish. And it’s free. No money needed for day-to-day living. “Then how do you pay your bills?” I persist. “Sell the extra veggies and fruit by the side of the road, work a few hours, don’t work when you don’t need to, no pressure. See? Not like New Zealand.”
Come to think of it, all island societies – just like indigenous peoples elsewhere in the world – have not just survived but thrived without a monetary economy for millennia. And they’ve done so sustainably, without polluting, without taking more than what they need. They’ve grown food naturally and organically, without making a fuss of it or clamouring for some sort of expensive certification. They’ve treated ailments with traditional remedies and dealt with day-to-day problems with collective wisdom. We first world slickers call that ‘subsistence living’ as though it were some lower form of existence. We desperately want to bring ‘up’ those living standards with ‘development.’ Paid for by aid and cheap loans so that they may better participate in the modern global economy.
An ambitious king in ancient India, so the story goes, prayed fervently to the almighty to give him a soldier so powerful that no weapon could destroy him and whenever he raised his right hand over the head of an adversary or enemy, that enemy would instantly turn to a pile of ash and dust. Pleased with the king’s sincere prayer, the almighty supplied him with a soldier called Bhasmasura, which means ‘the demon of ash.’ He was a big and strong brute of a man donning impenetrable armour that would blunt any weapon and let him penetrate enemy ranks like a hot knife through butter. He would then head straight for the enemy king with his right hand raised and upon placing it above the defeated king’s head would reduce him to a pile of ash instantaneously. And so it went on.
The soldier helped the king annex kingdom after vanquished kingdom. The king could not believe his good fortune, now lording over every region he could set his eyes upon. He truly was lord of all he surveyed. Then one day the soldier realised that the king really drew all this power, glory and riches from his own magical super powers. Why should he be subservient to the king, he thought. He wanted to be the king instead of the king. He tried to reason with the king, asking for a part of the kingdom for himself to rule over. The king of course refused. Needless to say, the negotiations broke down and soon the soldier approached menacingly toward the king, right hand raised.
The king reached for his weapons and hurled them at the soldier with all the force and fury he could summon but to no avail. Then fearing the worst, he took to his heels with his soldier of great magical powers in hot pursuit. The chase went on for several years, as the story goes, and took the duo to the very corners of the world, where in one such corner the king got a brief respite to hide, reflect and contemplate his next move. Having exhausted all options and at the end of his wits and ebbing physical strength and full of regret for asking such a dangerous weapon in the first place, he began to pray to the almighty again….
One of the more significant announcements during Prime Minister John Key’s visit to three Pacific Island countries last month is that New Zealand will allow more seasonal workers from the islands to work on the country’s farms. Numbers are likely to rise from the current 8000 to a shade more than 10,000 in the next couple of years. This will further boost remittances – the single biggest revenue earner for many Pacific Island nations. New Zealand’s Recognised Employer Scheme (RSE) is an acclaimed success story that has created a win-win situation for all stakeholders. Launched in a small way in 2007, the scheme has grown from strength to strength. It has been studied in several countries around the world as a model scheme in seasonal migration, contributing to economic development in both source and host countries. One of the biggest impediments in the way of regional seasonal migration schemes all over the world is the fear of illegal immigration – the strong possibility of workers simply disappearing into the countries at the end of their visa duration to become illegal over stayers. However, the New Zealand experience has proved otherwise, mainly because of the way it has been designed, especially with the intention to minimise such eventualities. To quote from a World Bank commissioned study of the RSE scheme conducted by the University of Waikato: “The design features of the programme and the low rate of overstaying have already led to this policy being heralded as international best practice. The large development impacts seen here should further foster the case for other countries to consider similar policies.” This is nothing short of an expert endorsement of the scheme for implementation elsewhere.