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Monday, 25 September 2017

Got Democracy?

Well we can’t say we did not see it coming.

Yes folks, here we are, again, for the third time in recent memory as we get to play another exciting game of “What does Winston want, and is it worth it to give it to him?”

But first the numbers.

National got the bulk of those who actually bothered to vote (more on that in a moment) while Labour pulled back those previously wayward voters (you know the ones that had voted Green the past few elections) while the Greens only just escaped electoral annihilation and NZ First (despite its reduced vote numbers) ended up where we expected them to be; sitting in position of deciding where NZ will go for the next three years.

The Maori Party and Mana were obliterated at the ballot box by voters who had tired of their piss-poor antics while Gareth Morgan acted like a spoilt child/very rich man when voters did not flock to his banner of rational populism.

Finally the voters of Epsom confirmed their kinky fetish for David Seymour and ACT by returning him to parliament but probably in opposition.

And it seems that after such a democratic process as this election was (because we don’t have easily manipulated electronic voting machines or people dropping off pre-stuffed ballot boxes at polling places) that now having to wait while a single individual decides the outcome for us is extremely undemocratic.

One question on people minds is "what will his price be and will it be worth it because the last two governments which did a deal with the devil got exactly what they bargained for in the end?"

With that in mind I am torn between wanting Winston to back National right into the god awful outcome they are going to get as a fourth term government, struggling with a mess of problems of their own making and wanting Winnie to throw in his lot with Labour, usher some change to NZ before the inevitable substance hits the fan.

In the end the real losers will be both parties because if you’re dependent on a highly capricious third party, with the moral scruples of a predatory fish, to get you into government then you will get burnt no matter what the outcome is. The only winner in this scenario is Winston (and I mean just Winston: not NZ First or any of those who voted for him).

Of course no power seeking politician in their greed addled mind will give up a shot at the throne so instead of expecting Bill English or Jacinda Ardern to say no to the poisoned chalice we will more likely get to watch them twist, turn and dance like puppets to the dictates of Winston before one of them blinks and the other gets the crown.

All of this is standard stuff for NZ politics and nothing we have not seen before but what is interesting is that voter turnout only just cracked 78% (up slightly from previous elections) which leaves over 20% of the voting populace too apathetic to vote and has killed dead any idea that there was a generational shift about to take place in NZ politics with some sort of “youth quake” reshaping the political landscape.

So it seems that Mike Hosking was right all along and for the next few days (or possibly weeks) we get to cool our heels while Winston Peters cuts a deal with either Bill or Jacinda over the future of NZ.

Speculation at this point is invited and the media has already started trying to figure out the puzzle but as I have said before even on the best of days it could still come down to how tight Winston’s pants are or what colour a reporter’s shirt is so there is only so much room for figuring the angles.

Best case scenario has nothing to do with what party he supports but rather how well the damage can be mitigated by which ever party comes after. The next best outcome is he supports Labour because “change” (and because watching Bill English implode as his dreams of PM are cruelly snatched way remain an entertaining prospect) while the least preferred option is another three years of National doing little because Winston has them by the short and curly’s.

But despite all such manoeuvring only one true question remains.

Is the fact that one fifth of the population not bothering to vote, and by extension handing over the whole outcome to one individual to decide “democracy in action” or something else? Is that populism kiwi-style? 

I really don't know.


  1. "s the fact that one fifth of the population not bothering to vote, and by extension handing over the whole outcome to one individual to decide “democracy in action” or something else?"

    What's the connection between the low turnout and Winston's strategic position? Isn't it just as possible that a higher turnout would have still produced a situation where he was able to choose who to go with?

    Also, if 80% turnout is too low to count as a democracy, there have been maybe five democratic societies in human history.

  2. Yes there is no correlation between turnout and actual vote-share (as far as I know) but I am going out on a limb here and saying that, at a minimum, that missing 20% would have been an even spread of voters across the vote pool but more likely to fall into the dispossessed or marginalized voter column (same as how voter phone polls will automatically miss people without landlines who are more likely to be lower income) and therefore not be your average National (status quo voter).

    NZ once had 98% voting and there has been a decline mostly since that time with only the last two elections reversing, up from the 74% in 2011.

    The question that interests me is why has there been a decrease and at what point does it cease to be a democratic outcome if a) more people had voted and b) an increased level of voter participation had not lead to the outcome of Winston Peters deciding who gets to be next government.

    In short, is this coalition politics or something else?

    There may be no direct connection to be seen at this time but I think there is and its worth exploring given that we are now having to wait while Winston makes up his mind.

  3. Bear in mind that we had the "Winston gets to choose" outcome back in 1996, with an 88% turnout.

    It seems you just took two things you dislike and assumed they might be connected despite quite strong evidence they are independent of one another. Correlation =/= causation, E.A.

    I have to say you often talk about how you have vast experience making policy but given how often you fall into these kinds of fairly basic sixth form mistakes, I do wonder how good at it you really are.

    As an addendum, it's interesting you note the theory that robo-call polls are skewed towards higher incomes, but it seems the polls got it pretty much right this time. So this seems to be more of an illustration of how tenuous your ideas are than anything.

  4. I said I was going out on a limb here, thats part of the fun of having a blog. So yes, maybe no direct link, I noted that at the start so why get hung up on me having a punt?

    Also policy work is often about exploring things things and ideas which dont always have an obvious connection so having a few blue sky ideas is part of the fun, we throw them out, see if they stick or have any merit etc. Later we hone things down to something else, as we are doing now. If a policy solution was always so obvious then making policy would be very different but sometimes it requires trying something different.

    As for the Polls, well if the polls only take into account a certain demographic that have phones (landlines) and we have 20% of the population not voting then there in fact may be a skew here as lots of people who do not have landlines may also be the same who did not vote. If so then the polls are only reinforcing the reality they can see and not accounting for that missing 20% which may in fact be happening.

    So there is nothing wrong with looking at things in that way as 20% gap in voter numbers is a significant portion of the electorate and begs the question about at what point does the democratic franchise of having an election cease to be legitimate or representative if you have voters not voting or if as a result of that non turn out the election is now decided by a single individual.

    You can sit back and think that is all fine and dandy, I choose not to as Winstons track record in this area is not exactly something to get enthused about.

    1. "if you have voters not voting or if as a result of that non turn out the election is now decided by a single individual"

      I'm repeating myself, but: Every single election in history has included voters not voting. I presume what you really mean is an unacceptably high level of voters not voting. 80% is good by international standards and an improvement on the last ten years. It is not good by historical NZ standards, it's true. However it seems hyperbole to say you need 88% (or 90%, or whatever your personal standard is) or a country isn't a democracy - again, by that standard, there are very, very few democracies.

      And once again, I don't see how you support your argument that a higher turnout would have meant Winston's position was less crucial. NZF has tended to do well when voter turnout is high, achieving historic peaks in support in high turnout elections.

  5. When votes are tied, the last person to vote in effect decides the outcome. It means that whenever opinion is more or less evenly divided, whether in a Parliamentary election or in Parliament itself, any one person who is not tied to a particular position (an opportunist if you like) can wield considerable power but, and this is important, only if a larger grouping is willing to bow to the demands of the opportunist. So in the present situation if the National Party is willing to play ball with Winston Peters, that is democracy.
    I see no way that we could institute rules to prevent such "undue influence" short of removing the most essential democratic rights and freedoms.
    Those eligible to vote who did not vote (actually much more than 20%, because many are not enrolled) may have had sound reasons for not voting, and further more there is nothing to suggest that if they had voted the electoral outcome would have been significantly different.
    As I have suggested previously, it would be more productive to look into why so many people are turned off by the democratic process, and to seek ways of reforming the system which would encourage mass participation and outcomes that genuinely reflect the popular will.

    1. I would be in agreement on that, figuring out why so many people dont vote is crucial to ensuring a functional democracy.

      Its either that or let things slide into something akin to how the US is.

    2. Non-voting is a complex phenomenon. After the parliamentary election I asked one man whether he had voted. "No". Why not? "Because my natural instinct was to vote Labour or Green (he being a working class bloke practically concerned with protecting the environment and saving the planet) but then I saw the Family First survey of candidate opinion and realized that in voting Labour or Green I would be voting for euthanasia, abortion, prostitution and an end to gender protections. So I didn't vote". That is, he didn't vote because the political process is dominated by liberal mass media and a liberal political establishment and no alternatives of the kind which would have been acceptable to him are permitted by the establishment. He would have voted if he had been allowed a genuine choice.
      But others I have spoken to would not vote in any circumstances. They regard the present system as irredeemably corrupt, even satanic. I have to say that I agree with the second school of thought, even though I might not express the idea in such stark language.
      The regime might like to know why people aren't voting, but it would not be pleased to learn the answers, and it certainly would not be happy to have those reasons become a matter of open public discussion. So the pro-voting lobby will confine itself to banalities along the lines of "If you don't vote you can't complain". The truth is that those who only want to "vote and complain" are abdicating their destiny, and the future of their nation, to a bunch of scallywag politicians. That is the height of political irresponsibility.

  6. I can't see NZ First pushing it's weight around too much. If that happened Bill English will call another election and decimate NZ First. Its worth remembering that Winston wants to be remembered well. He will go with Nat and develop as much policy as he can. I would not even guarantee our Referendum at this stage.. So NZ First with Nat unless EA wants to take another wager. That reminds me EA if you print here or at I send you the $50 wager > Labour and Greens achieving over 40%. So yes, send the number > I like wagers it means you have some skin in the game not just words. Another possible wager > I don't think Winston will screw things up in Government . We lost all three of our South Island NZF Mp's though. He does blody weird things. paul scott

  7. Sorry, EA I mean bank account number to > I settle wager straight away.

  8. Hmmmm, Interesting, I have never thought about Bill calling another election, I wonder if he would have the stones to do such a thing, its definately one of the tools in any political toolbox but a risky one (think Thresa May in the UK recently).

    Was that our bet? Labour/Greens getting more than 40%? Lets hold off settling it until someone forms a government as while its a long shot there is still a possibility that the Greens will end up as the new Maori party and go with National (which would also nullify our bet)

  9. Hi Winston
    Please please argue for an international airport on the Ruakaka Peninsula - close to refinery the way other countries place their international airports close to their refineries. You can do it! New Zealand WANTS you cab do it, which is why two thirds voters effectively voted for you.