Search This Blog

Thursday, 28 September 2017

Elections 2017: So you say you want a coalition

This is probably one of the last in the Elections 2017 series and a topic which we always had to address, but like finding a nest of spiders in your sock draw its not a pleasant one to deal with.

Musically aware readers may notice right off the bat that the title of this post is essential a play on the opening line to the Beatles 1968 song Revolution, in which the group, but mostly John Lennon, express some concerns about some of the revolutionary sentiment going round at the time (this was 1968 after all)*.

Well, you know, I am not writing a hit pop song or having any concerns about the revolutionary mood in this day and age but I do have some issues with the current bout of horse-trading that’s passing for “coalition negotiations” at the moment.

As I noted in my last post the end result of a fair and democratic election is a highly undemocratic process where the various parties begin to wheel and deal in order to form a government.

“But that is politics under MMP!” I hear you cry in anguish at my failure to understand the obviousness of Mixed Member Proportional politics.

Well Sparky, you may be right but before you go betting the farm you might want to consider that be it MMP or FPP both systems for running democratic elections have very clear rules and structures which MUST be followed to ensure that the election process remains fair and democratic so why not the same with the process for making a coalition?

This is why election advertising must be down before vote day, this is why advertising budgets are controlled, this is why there are observers and a whole galaxy of rules and regulations starting all the way down at how voting should be conducted on the day (as noted on the vote form and how the polling place is setup) up to who gets to sign off on the final outcome (technically the Governor General when they formally appoint the PM and next government).

All of these things ensure that the end result is free and fair and NZ gets to boast that it remains a democratic state rather than many of countries which like to pretend they are democratic (for example China, Thailand, North Korea, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Australia and the US of A**) but in reality are not.

So it’s pretty clear that these rules and regulations exist to ensure a fair result yet as soon as the populace has completed voting we step away from the clean and orderly streets of election town and cross the tracks into the crack house ghettos of coalition negotiations where anything goes and nothing is off the table.

Imagine its evening time, the sky is a fiery red, the day time traffic has faded away and the people of the night have come out. Imagine further, Bill English dressed up as a street walker outfit (stockings, short skirt, heavy lipstick and hair teased just so) standing on a street corner trying to attract the attention of any potential customers.

Now here comes a shiny black Beemer cruising down the way, Bill tosses his mane and strikes a pose that says “Hey baby, wanna party?” The car pulls up to the curb and the tinted windows roll down, with a whine of servos, to reveal the Cheshire cat grin (and silver mane) of Winston Peters.

The pair briefly discuss terms there on the street before, with a flash of shaved leg, Bill hops in and the Winstonmobile rolls off to some secluded back alley to complete the deal. Soon Bill is back on the boulevard looking for the next customer but is now joined by Steven Joyce in skin tight boob tube and skirt while Jacinda (rocking the “girl next door” look but still clearly on the make) plys her trade across the way.***

This might be a somewhat colourful description of the process but all the essential elements are there as this is not some clean cut business deal between buyer and seller but one party prostituting those that voted for them to anyone who will pay their fee. The only thing we don’t know is if Bill English is addicted to P and walking the street to fiancĂ© his drug habit.

I am aware that there cannot be a rule for everything and every situation and that countries round the world which have had coalition governments have to go through a similar process but as NZ has a political system which has thrown up two previous coalition governments in the last 20 years (along with various confidence and supply situations) and both of these did not end well so I don’t think it’s a long ask to have some basic format to how these things go which is not a slightly more glamorous version of the world oldest occupation.

Even worse is that this situation was clear to every voter and their dog months before we even went to the polls but the process is still being run (or at least covered by the media) as if this is some shock outcome which no body has had time to prepare for so we had better just wait while peeps figure this out.

And let’s not get our heads twisted round the idea that this can only be done after the fact of voting has taken place. The only difference between the before and after is that the numbers have firmed up, which does not stop parties from setting out positions, no go areas and discussing the matter before the big day, which some, to their credit (see the Greens and Labour) have been able to do.

Perhaps things would be different if it was not Winston Peters, again, being the person to which everyone is waiting on for an answer, perhaps a less capricious kingmaker might just have gotten down to brass tacks but then again the only other possible king maker out there (not really but let’s never discount the unlikely as an option) is the Greens and I think the stomping the party got at the polls (just over the 5% threshold) means they will probably not be too keen to make any risky moves by going out to play with National.

And if I may borrow some further lyrics from Revolution I would “like to see the plan” for what Winston has in mind because I read in the paper that Peters has refused to get back to people until all the special votes are counted on October the 12th which is nothing more than stone cold BS as a few percentage points or an extra seat is not going to fix the issues of policy and personality that are really what Winston is all about when it coalition time.

What is needed here is not set rules about coalition building but principles. Some basic principles about how a party might make a coalition set out before the election might go a long way to giving voters some certainty about the post-election coitus interruptus that we are all now suffering because if voters knew more about which way a party would swing in a coalition situation it would probably make for a different outcome.

Then there is the fact that the 5% threshold seem both a barrier to minor parties but also a safeguard against chaos in parliament.

In fact, I think part of the reason Winston lost his seat in Northlands and the party slipped back in the polls is because he was so obtuse about which way he was likely to go. Winston was so busy making sure that he was greased and ready for any action that came his way that he nullified his actual appeal to voters who saw NZ First as a party less about any specific or identified principle and more set up to get the greatest windfall for its leader post-election.

Winston’s rhetoric this election has been a far cry from his glory days with the Winebox and its shows.

Gone are the days when Winston could cause chaos and fear in the halls of power, in the 90s (specially before 96) he had more than one MP and senior civil servant on the ropes and seemed a genuine folk hero, exposing corruption and bad behavior as the then National Government was caught in a number of scandals relating to the Winebox. These days the resonance is just not there and saying National has a Chinese spy in its midst (which may or may not be true) just does not cut it.

So like the song says

You say you'll change the constitution
Well you know
We all want to change your head

You tell me it's the institution
Well you know
You better free your mind instead

The only thing about this process I like is that I still believe that I know the outcome (see my post about the The Daffodils of Change) and that the reality of this situation is that it’s not a 50/50 spilt like people keep saying or that Winston is supporting a deeply unpopular second term government into a third but that this is a deeply unpopular (yes even with its 46 percent) third term government who is desperate to remain in power in the face for a broad base of calls for change (Labour, Greens and yes even NZ First if Winston’s supporters are to be believed).

That the situation of NZ First/National does not behoove players like Shane Jones (with his Labour pedigree) or the general tone of party supporters means that any deal with National risks going against a greater grain than if he goes with Labour and the Greens.

But Winston is Winston and Winston will do what Winston does so we now get to watch this single individual dither around for another two weeks while the sheckles change hands before getting to the money shot (so to speak) of going with Labour.

So if Winston is going to carry to carry round a picture of Bill English he aint going make it with anyone anyhow and I say that because Winston is know to have apologized to NZ First voters in the later 90's (specifically in his then electorate of Tauranga) for his going with National in 96 when the mood of the nation (much like it is now) was not conductive to three more years of their antics.

So, don't you know its going to be alright.


*-Later on Lennon plunged a lot more whole heartedly into the spirit of the age but at this point he was still on the fence.
**-I might be wrong about the two of those examples
***-To be fair we could have had Winston in the short skirt and on the street corner but it just seemed better having Bill do the cross dressing.


  1. Your allegory makes the very true point that it takes two to tango. Winston cannot force anything upon the major parties. All he can do is exploit their hunger for power and turn it to his own advantage. If National, Labour and the Greens truly believed that Winston in government would be a disaster for the nation, and if they decided to put the interests of the nation first, they would refuse to deal with him, and he would cease to be "kingmaker". That would necessitate either a new election, or Labour's acquiescence to a minority National government, but both are unlikely (especially the latter option because both parties would strike a deal with Winston rather than spend the next three years out of government.)
    So Winston can skew the process of forming a government only as far as the representatives of some 80% of the voters will allow. Which to my mind means that the process actually continues to be quite democratic. It may be unpalatable to the many who demonized Peters prior to election day, but it is unreasonable to expect that democracy will provide idealistic outcomes in a nation where the bulk of politicians (and arguably voters) are at best "pragmatic", and at worst cynically opportunist. Politicians (the peoples courtiers) flatter the voters - "Kiwi battlers", "hardworking New Zealanders", "salt of the earth" and so on - while suggesting that the problem types ("dole bludger", "tax dodger" etc) are only a small minority. They could never win public favour by speaking the truth that neither the politicians nor the voters are any better than they should be. New Zealanders will get the government they deserve - Winston and all - and chances are it will be no worse than what they have had for the past nine years.

  2. Hi Geoff:

    Very true, which is why I have long stated that come the crunch Winston will back Labour.

    My issue with him is really why it takes so long given that that is the only real option open to him. The recent idea in the media that he could sit in the middle and play both ends against each other ignores exactly what people vote for in the first place.

    I am very curious to see if Winston has learnt his lesson after the two previous attempts at this because if he has then may, just maybe, Kiwis wont get the government they deserve (as you note).

    You are right about the electoral dynamics but forgive me for being more cynical than yourself about how this would play out as I see parties willing to consider electoral and parliamentary chaos rather than return to the ballot box.