There's an election on tomorrow (which some bright spark has called for the same weekend that there's a motorcycle rally in town. Which means that the weather is going to be crap, as it always is for such occasions - it's still only Friday and there's already been enough of a howling gale that the beach race has been cancelled. Seems that the organisers might have been a bit worried that more bikes would have ended up in the sand dunes than over the finish line). The line-up, as I mentioned a couple of weeks back, took the concept of "uninspiring" to extremes. So much so that in some cases it's not even worth my time trying to write a quick description of the party leaders.
Anyway, the Dramatis Personae (in descending percentage of supporters in the latest opinion polls) are:
The National Party. Government for the last three years (and have made a rather poor job of it). Have been borrowing money like there's no tomorrow. Americans: think of the Bush-the-elder era Republican Party. British: think of the John Major era Conservative Party.
The Labour Party. Had been Government for the previous nine years, at the end of which they had run out of steam. Haven't done much revitalising of themselves yet. Despite their name they're fairly much a centrist party wedded to the capitalist paradigm. Were known for running a tight financial ship and paying off overseas debt. Americans: think of the Clinton-era Democrat Party.
The Green Party. Environmentalists. Have had a bit of a purge of any noticeably left-wing elements and have been trying to position themselves between the two main parties. Are rather alarmed at certain high-risk energy-extraction plans that are currently being championed.
New Zealand First. Economically centrist and conservative to the point of protectionist; moderately xenophobic (with a particular dislike for anyone suspected of being East Asian). Widely regarded as a Winston Peters personality cult. Doesn't really have a Northern Hemisphere parallel that I'm aware of; could possibly be described as Perónist.
The Māori Party. Another party without a clear Northern Hemisphere parallel. Americans: imagine a grouping of conservative Native American leaders. British: imagine the House of Lords. Well, perhaps not quite.
The Conservative Party, who are so forgettable that I completely forgot about them while first typing this up. Led by someone who thinks he can buy his way into Parliament. (From memory, he tried to buy himself a protest march a while back and that fizzled as well). Politically they are what those nice young people at TV Tropes would call "Exactly What It Says On The Tin".
ACT, which I thought stood for "The Association of Consumers and Taxpayers" but the two are apparently separate entities intertwined in some sort of complicated corporate double helix. ACT is about the only printable thing people have been calling them for the last few months. Went into the 2008 election as fiscal conservatives (Americans: think Reagan-era Republicans) but had also branded themselves as "The Liberal Party" on the grounds that they thought the State should get out of people's private lives as well as their financial lives. A few months ago they had a serious internal ruction (to the extent that every single one of their current MPs are retiring from Parliament) and have been taken over by two recent ex-National Party MPs; one a former leader who quit under enough of a cloud that there was a book published about it, and one who had failed as a Minister, failed as Mayor of Auckland and whose latest published statements indicate him to be something of a white-supremacist. For an equivalent of the 2011 ACT, see the American Tea Party.
The Mana Party. Led by a loose cannon who got kicked out of the Māori Party for having too much of a mind of his own, and which has seemed to attract the left-wing elements which have been purged from the Green Party.
And now on to what I think is most likely to happen. New Zealand's electoral system is fairly much based on what Germany has: people vote once for a local candidate to represent them, and once for a party which has the most appropriate set of policies for them. If a party gets less than five per cent of the party votes, they don't get any MPs, unless one of their members wins an electorate seat. Once this five per cent threshhold is met, they get the proportion of MPs in Parliament that they get of the vote for parties who meet the threshhold (or get a seat). If they don't have enough electorate MPs to fill this quota (and most often they don't), the places are filled with MPs from a Party List that is submitted before the election (as long as the party actually remembers to do so. Libertarianz, I'm looking at you...)
My guess as to the results: ACT won't get anywhere (they can't attract enough votes, and their attempt to work with National Party to get themselves an electorate fairly much by default has left them looking rather ridiculous). National, which were hoping to be able to stitch up a majority with the help of ACT, will need to find themselves an alternative for a parliamentary majority. With Labour and Mana not prepared to work with National, the Greens worried about alienating their environmental supporters and the Māori Party likely to only bring in two or three MPs, the obvious choice of a coalition partner is New Zealand First. But, while they have largely compatible policy positions, there is a serious amount of bad blood between the two, particularly at the top level. National Party leader John Key has outright refused to work with Winston Peters after the election, even if the voters tell him to. Key has had a bit of a history in the last few years of going back on such outright refusals (such as the one not to raise the Goods and Services Tax), but in this case he has become even more strident over the last few days. So, what's going to happen, I think, will be this:
Key will refuse, point blank, to work with Peters.
Key's Caucus will tell him to pull his neck in, because they want to keep their Ministerial salaries and perks.
Either Key will fold, or he'll be rolled. Who will roll him is debatable; Bill English has the experience, but is also a failed previous leader. Stephen Joyce has shown some glimmer of talent, but has also been involved in some rather dodgy dealings. Most of the remainder of the National Party (as does the leader of the Labour Party) have about as much charisma as a crumbling brick and are thus unlikely to be wanted by their colleagues to be the visible face of their Party.
All in all, the next while looks like it might be entertaining to watch from a safe distance. I hear Brisbane's nice this time of year. (Well, any time of the year, but that's because I'm in Invercargill). Now to see how long it's going to take me to get a replacement passport... I don't think the Aussies will let me in on one that expired last century...
Anyway, now you've sat through all this waffle here's something to entertain you. Particularly if you're interested in the nomenclature of iconic New Zealand beverages (you know who you are...)