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Populist politics intruding on New Zealand parliamentary election

September 23, 2017 - NEW ZEALAND

New Zealand First, an anti-establishment party, and the new Labour-Greens alliance are each striving to deny the conservative National Party its fourth term at the helm of the Pacific country.

The election for the 120-seat parliament sees NZ First, led by Winston Peters, as the inheritor of the anti-establishment wave that left Britain with Brexit and the United States with President Donald Trump. Peters holds anti-immigrant and nationalist sentiments that in 2016 set Britain on its path to exiting the European Union and propelled Trump into the White House. Peters and the party are also targeting the youth vote by campaigning on free tertiary study and driver's licenses.

Peters' handicap might be the country's Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) voting, a method seen as favoring the two main parties, the Nationalists and Labour. He had another possible setback in June when New Zealand snatched one of the world's most prestigious sporting prizes from the United States, the America's Cup sailing contest. The victory allows the Nationals to portray themselves as the winning team.

New Zealand's Labour and Greens set aside rivalry and signed a pact to contest the election together. Former Labour leader Helen Clarke has not revealed whether she will re-enter politics to lead the charge. Since her departure, the Labour Party has failed to find a leader that could match the popularity of former prime minister John Key. Key resigned as prime minister in Dec 2016, handing over the job to his deputy, Bill English.

Stuff NZ notes that Labour and the Nationals are now at pains to reduce net immigration numbers, addressing an underlying desire to preserve traditional sources of social cohesion and employment at a time when the country's infrastructure is not keeping pace with recent population growth.

The National Party has had three consecutive terms in power after taking over from Clarke's Labour government in 2008. The prominent election issues facing the Nationals include unaffordable homes, homelessness, poverty and inequality.

In the Trump era, Winston Peters wins (Stuff NZ May 2017)

John Key says election to be held in 'back-half' of 2017 (Stuff NZ 5 Sep 2016)

New Zealand's Labour and Greens sign pact to fight National party in election (Guardian Jun 2016)

Date written/update: 2017-06-29