Poll victory will test Alliance
By Eva Cheng
The November 27 poll in New Zealand gives the balance of power to the centre-left Alliance (which received 8% of the vote and will gain 10-11 seats, depending on the special votes). This will give this coalition of parties a real chance to implement some of the progressive policies that it has been advocating for years.
New Zealand workers and the poor have suffered tremendously under 15 years of ferocious neo-liberal policies, carried out by the Labour government of David Lange from 1984 onwards, and then, since 1990, by the Nationals.
The voters are able to make this choice now only because, in two referendums in 1992-3, they opted to junk the first-past-the-post voting system in favour of mixed member proportional representation (MMP). The latter gives a party parliamentary representation corresponding to the votes it gets nationally and has greatly expanded the electoral chances of the Alliance.
Under this new system, implemented in 1996, of the 120 seats in parliament, 60 are local electorates based on first-past-the-post, four are reserved for Maoris, and the remainder are allocated to the parties in proportion to the votes they receive. However, a party which fails to win any electorate seat will be deprived of party seat allocations unless it wins at least 5% of total votes.
Since its formation in 1991 as an electoral partnership on a progressive platform, the Alliance has been a breath of fresh air, a contrast to the Tweedledum-Tweedledee policies of National and Labour. It has won significant support, sometimes exceeding 30% in opinion polls.
The Alliance's main component is the NewLabour Party, formed in 1989 when members of the Labour Party split in protest at its neo-liberal policies in government. The Greens, Mana Motuhake (a party for self-determination of the Maori people) and the Democrats were also founding partners, followed by the Liberals in 1992 (months after they split from the National Party).
The need for an electoral pact was reduced by MMP, paving the way for the departure of the Greens from the Alliance in November 1997, days before the Alliance first put to its members a possible electoral pact with Labour. The Liberals left before the proposal's formal endorsement in August 1998, amidst widespread concerns that the Alliance's progressive positions could be seriously compromised.
In this election, the Alliance was advocating free health and education, boosting the income of low-wage earners, superannuants and those on benefits by $20 a week and many other measures that would benefit the battlers. It advocates increasing workers' participation in workplace decision making, although with limits: "We recognise the interdependence of management and labour", an Alliance policy paper says.
The Alliance states that its policies should be paid for by increasing the tax on the richest 5% of the population and by a temporary 5% increase in import tariffs (Australian goods excepted) to help create more jobs and address the country's long-term imbalances in international balance of payments.
A serious challenge for the Alliance's progressive principles lies ahead.
Meanwhile, there are signs that the Greens are capturing increasing support amongst radicalising youth, while attracting fierce attacks from the right, which accuses them of "eco-terrorism". One of their lead candidates — a member of the Wild Greens, which were involved in pulling up a genetically modified potato crop — was especially targeted by the Nationals.
Greens' supporters report that they ran a colourful campaign, with imaginative direct actions, driven mainly by their young members.