New Zealanders went to the polls on October 14th to decide who they would send to Parliament. The election was contested by the favored center-right National Party, led by Christopher Luxon, and the incumbent center-left Labour Party, headed by Prime Minister Chris Hipkins. Various smaller parties participated in the election, including the left-wing Greens, the libertarian ACT Party, the populist-nationalist NZ First, and the indigenous rights Te Pāti Māori (the Māori Party). However, with National widely predicted to win a plurality of seats, the real question was whether National and its coalition partner ACT would require support from NZ First leader Winston Peters to form a government.
New Zealand’s Election System
New Zealand has used a mixed-member proportional system (MMP) in nationwide elections since 1996. MMP attempts to match the percentage of votes a party obtains to its percentage of allocated seats. Under MMP, voters choose a party, which determines how many seats each party receives, and a party-affiliated candidate in their electorate to decide who represents their area. Before an election, parties submit a ranked list of candidates, known as party lists. The individuals on party lists enter parliament depending on their list ranking and their party’s vote share. A party must either win an electorate or earn at least 5% of the party vote to enter the 120-seat Parliament, nicknamed the Beehive. 72 MPs represent electoral districts, including seven Māori electorates, and at least 48 MPs come from the party list. Overhang seats are added to Parliament if a party is overrepresented based on its vote share. Since a candidate for Port Waikato passed away before the election, the seat’s electorate vote has been postponed until late November. As a result, the 54th Parliament will possess an extra party list seat, giving it at least 121 and likely 122 MPs. Thus, the threshold for a majority is 62 seats.
Ballot from the Auckland Central Electorate for the 2023 New Zealand Election. Voters select their preferred candidate and their preferred party. Incumbent Green MP for Auckland Central Chlöe Swarbrick will return to Wellington after defeating her nearest challenger, National’s Mahesh Muralidhar.
National posted a strong election night performance, flipping multiple Labour strongholds. Special votes, which comprise roughly 20% of all votes cast and generally favor left-wing parties, will be counted over the next few weeks. Special votes could alter the composition of Parliament by a few seats, as had happened in 2020 when Labour and Te Pāti Māori each took an extra seat at the expense of National. Nonetheless, according to the New Zealand Electoral Commission, the tentative seat and party vote breakdown among the parties projected to enter Parliament is as follows:
National Party – 38.95% – 50 Seats
Labour Party – 26.90% – 34 Seats
Green Party – 10.77% – 14 Seats
ACT New Zealand – 8.98% – 11 Seats
New Zealand First – 6.46% – 8 Seats
Te Pāti Māori (Māori Party) – 2.61% – 4 Seats
These results place a center-right National-ACT coalition at 61 seats. Assuming National wins the Port Waikato by-election, as is expected, their coalition would reach the 62 seats threshold likely required to form a government majority. However, National Party campaign manager Chris Bishop conceded that he foresees his party losing at least one seat after special votes are counted, forcing his party to extend its hand to NZ First. NZ First captured eight seats and will return to the Beehive after a three-year absence. The only party to lose seats in 2023 was Labour. After winning an MMP-record 65-seat majority under then-Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in 2020, Labour’s seat total plummeted to 34 as their percentage of the vote nearly halved. Combined with the Greens and Māori Party, a center-left coalition would take 52 seats. Parliament is poised to contain an overhang seat since the Māori Party’s seat total outpaces their party vote share.
For a second straight election, the Māori Party relied on carrying Māori electorates to enter Parliament. They captured four Māori electorates, three of which Labour won in 2020. Ethnic Māori voters can register to vote in either general or Māori electorates. Labour has historically dominated these Māori seats, but the center-left party is on pace to win just three of them. One of Labour’s losses was in Hauraki-Waikato, where 21-year-old Hana-Rawhiti Maipi-Clarke of the Māori Party upset Foreign Affairs Minister Nania Mahuta. In doing so, Maipi-Clarke became New Zealand’s youngest MP since the country’s inaugural general election 170 years ago. Elsewhere, ACT won a second seat in Auckland—the largest city in New Zealand—and the Greens tripled their electorate seat count with two triumphs in the Wellington region.
Special votes could change the outcome in a handful of electorate seats too. Yet, with few exceptions, these changes would only affect the names in Parliament, not the distribution of seats among parties. The exceptions are two Māori electorates, Te Tai Tokerau and Tāmaki Makaurau, where two incumbent Labour MPs hold sub-500 vote leads over Māori Party challengers. Either of these seats flipping would add an additional overhang seat to Parliament, cementing the need for National to coalition with NZ First. Other close races are Te Atatū, Nelson, Banks Peninsula, and Jacinda Ardern’s former seat of Mount Albert. The margin in all of these seats is under 106 votes.
With a National-ACT-NZ First coalition looking likely, the million-dollar question becomes what concessions will National and ACT make to get NZ First onboard. National and ACT want to increase the minimum age to access a type of retirement fund known as superannuation from 65 to 67. NZ First’s opposition to raising the superannuation age might ensure the status quo policy’s survival. Other areas of disagreement between the trio include repealing specific climate legislation and holding a referendum on Te Tiriti o Waitangi (the Treaty of Waitangi), one of New Zealand’s founding documents. On the other hand, the parties concur on ending a ban on offshore oil and gas exploration, canceling light rail construction, replacing a water supply centralization program known as Three Waters, and scrapping plans to price farm emissions. A conservative government is anticipated to impose harsher criminal sanctions and lower taxes in response to crime concerns and a cost-of-living crisis. New Zealand might have a National Prime Minister for a while. Since 1975, no party has lost reelection after a single term in power.
How Have Kiwis Reacted?
New Zealanders have responded to the election results in various ways. Here are the thoughts of four of them, all of whom voted straight-ticket.
Frederic, 21, voted for National – “The Labour-led Government, having been given a mandate to fully manifest their ideology over the last term of parliament, have demonstrated to Kiwis that it is ineffective under our current circumstances, and as a result, they have voted heavily against them. Low-level economic growth and ongoing inflation have largely resulted from Labour’s economic mismanagement and lack of focus on productivity. It appears as if National wants to revert on some of the decisions of the previous government that have aggravated those issues.”
Cathryn, 68, voted for National – “A Labour government was hurtling New Zealand down the wrong track and wasteful bureaucratic spending was hugely out of control. Now we have a National-Act coalition that will bring the right policies to address the formidable issues facing our nation successfully. I’m really hoping Winston Peters won’t sneak in pending the special votes. But since the election, the general mood seems to have lifted as we look forward to rebuilding our productivity and the economy.”
Kelana, 20, voted for Labour – “I was pretty disappointed with the election results as it will be much harder for students under a National-led government. Their bottom line is tax relief but I won’t get any tax relief as per the Tax Relief calculator on their website. Most of my friends will get nothing as well and some will get around under $4 per fortnight, which isn’t much at all. The current 50% discount on public transport for under-25s will be axed, hence I’ll have to pay double for transport to and from university. I think this will get more people in cars, which isn’t good at all. I don’t think National has good policies for young people. I like some of their policies like building a new medical school and paying a chunk of nurses’ student loans, but they don’t really benefit me. Their coalition partner, ACT, wants a referendum on the Treaty of Waitangi, which is crazy since it’s like the country’s founding document. I think it’ll be hard for students to live here and a lot of my friends are thinking of moving to Australia as it is much better there.”
Sophie, 20, voted for Te Pāti Māori – “I am disappointed but not surprised. People were disillusioned with Labour but from my perspective, National isn’t offering any solutions that help everyday people. As Māori, I’m worried about what the new government will mean for Māori, with things like National wanting to disband the Māori Health Authority.”
Senior Josh Dratler is a Staff Writer. His email is email@example.com.