Minor parties and election delay

By Danielle van Dalen August 25, 2020

A side effect of New Zealand’s election delay is that every political party now has an extra four weeks to campaign. This means an extra four weeks to capture the public’s attention, but also means every political party has to scramble to adjust and sustain their campaigns for longer than expected. For the minor parties in particular I’m sure that this news was a mixed blessing as they work to navigate the already tough path to Wellington.

One benefit of New Zealand’s multiparty political system is that it encourages a range of voices to contribute to the governing of our country, and in coalition governments, minor parties can provide a check on the decision-making powers available to larger governing parties. Of course, depending on your perspective, this can sometimes seem frustrating rather than a helpful aspect of our political system. But that’s the point, having minor parties within Government ensures that negotiation and compromise are at the core of our democracy.

Every political party has to scramble to adjust and sustain their campaigns for longer than expected

The ousting of both United Future and the Maori Party in the 2017 general election, however, highlighted how difficult it is for minor parties to survive – even if they have a history in parliament. To claim a seat in parliament each party must either reach the five percent threshold or win an electorate seat. As current polling suggests, this isn’t easy. Of the current minor parties in parliament New Zealand First and ACT are consistently polling below the five percent threshold, and even the Greens who have been polling above five percent are campaigning hard to win an electoral seat that would safeguard their survival in the next parliament.

For new political parties who don’t already have representation in parliament, winning those seats is even more difficult. As political commentator Alex Braae has said, “since MMP was introduced in 1996, successful upstart political parties in New Zealand have tended to rely on electorate MPs branching off to form their own parties, or join others – think Winston Peters forming NZ First, for example, or Richard Prebble joining ACT.” Without the attention and credibility that parliament brings it can be hard to get access to the platforms like tv debates and media coverage that more established parties receive on a regular basis.

Having minor parties within Government ensures that negotiation and compromise are at the core of our democracy

For new ideas and movements to thrive in a healthy democracy all of us need to get involved. This could mean going along to a local meet the candidate event, or simply being friendly and listening to the candidate who knocks on your door, no matter their party. It’s possible for people to be heard, but that requires the rest of us to listen and engage.

And so, as the election campaign grinds on with its slogans and hoardings for another month, spare a thought for the people behind those campaigns – whether you agree with their politics or not. They’re playing a difficult role by trying to bolster the range of voices heard in New Zealand’s political theatre.

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