By Ian Powell
WELLINGTON — There has been a dramatic shift in the popularity of New Zealand's political parties.
A Morgan Gallup opinion poll conducted last month recorded a striking increase in support for the left-wing NewLabour Party from 7% to 16%.
Another progressive party, the Greens, also increased its support, to 12%. The total support given to third parties was 36%, although a small component of this is for right-wing parties.
-1>The ruling National Party's support slumped to 23%. Although the Labour Party is well ahead, its support dropped 1 point to 41%.0>
The poll result reflects a growing disenchantment with the National government, which has continued and extended the "free-market" policies of the former Labour government. Among the most unpopular of National's policies are the slashing of pensioner incomes, increases to the costs of doctors' visits and prescriptions and the introduction of the Employment Contracts Act, which undermines collective bargaining.
However, the catalyst for the dramatic August poll was the government's budget the previous month, which announced draconian new policies, including cuts to education spending, extensive user-pays charges in the public health service and drastic means testing of superannuation income for retiring people. At the same time, unemployment continues to rise.
NewLabour's strong result appears to be due to its persistence in distinguishing itself from National and Labour, its sharp attacks on government policies compared with the timid criticisms from the Labour "opposition", and its determined circulation of a petition calling for the government to resign and put its policies to the test of a general election.
The poll suggests there may be three forces in the 1993 general election, and that National may be replaced as the main opposition.
This possibility is reinforced by recent discussions between NewLabour, the Greens, Mana Motuhaka (a progressive Maori rights party), and the Democrats (a small populist party which had two seats in Parliament from 1980 to 1987). At this stage the options range from an electoral alliance to a merger.
The discussions are in an early phase, but an alliance between them would clearly produce a strong electoral challenge. n