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Voters choose legislators

November 26, 2011 - NEW ZEALAND

The governing center-right National Party and Prime Minister John Keys expect a second 3-year term, but the struggling economy gives the opposition Labour Party led by Phil Goff the possibility of a comeback. Another determining factor could be the ability of the main parties to woo smaller parties and their supporters. Voters will decide on the same day whether they want to change the present proportional representation voting system. One option is a return to the simple plurality system.

A possible direction for Labour is trying to reframe in an unfavorable light the way Key and National handled New Zealand's three big crises in 2010 -; the Christchurch earthquake, the Pike River mine disaster and the row over actors' contracts for Sir Peter Jackson's Hobbit movie. And much will depend on whether Labour can portray National as an incompetent steward of the economy. New Zealand house prices fell amid low activity in 2010, according to Reuters, with no sign of any near-term turnaround because of the sluggish economy. The small but influential Maori Party could also have a say in the results, supporting whichever of the two parties comes up with the best solution for the country's 2004 Foreshore and Seabed Act. The law governs access to beaches, among other things. The country's indigenous Maoris have not been happy with restrictions in the Act, while some non-Maoris have been frightened into thinking that with a change, Maoris will be able to stop them from surfing and sunbathing at favorite beach spots. Voters will choose all 120 Members of Parliament to seats in the New Zealand House of Representatives from some eight parties: ACT New Zealand, Green Party, Maori Party, New Zealand National Party, New Zealand First Party or NZ First, New Zealand Labor Party, Jim Anderton's Progressive Party and United Future New Zealand. National won 44.9 per cent of the votes in the last election, to 34 per cent for Labour. The referendum will ask voters whether they want to keep Mixed Member Proportional Representation (MMP) or change to another voting system, as well as which of four other voting systems they would prefer if change from MMP is selected. The choices are: First Past the Post (FPP), Preferential Vote (PV), Supplementary Member (SM), and Single Transferable Vote (STV). In 1993 New Zealanders voted in a referendum to change from the FPP method to MMP. The official New Zealand election site explains that "the origins of electoral reform lay in the gradual breakdown of public trust and confidence in politicians, Parliament, and the simple certainties of the old two-party system."

New Zealand election web

To Keep or To Change First Past The Post?The Politics of Electoral Reform (book-Oxford University Press)

New Zealand house prices dip in December - QV (Reuters 13 Jan 2011)

Date written/update: 2011-11-26