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.
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