The resurgence of the left has fallen short, as the ruthless final weeks of National’s campaign have them well placed to secure a fourth term. As predicted for months, NZ First will ultimately decide – but the calculus favours the incumbents.
The shock resignation of John Key. The whiplash rise of Jacinda Ardern. The rainstorm of resignations. The marble-race campaign. After all that, and the National Party shall not be moved. Its final vote in the 2014 election? 47%. Its total with just about all of the vote counted on election night? 46.2%.
National will slip a little on special votes, Labour will gain on the 35.7% it has now. But it is impossible to deny that Bill English’s National Party is the victor tonight.
But this is MMP, of course. While Winston Peters is a loser – he could very well drop his Northland seat, and his NZ First Party, after a lacklustre campaign, is down to 7.5% (from 11% in 2014) – he wins, too. Unless something unlikely happens, National will need his support to govern.
Could Labour yet prevail? Maybe. They and the Greens, two parties which at some point in the mists of the past agreed a memorandum of understanding, could do it, but they’d need New Zealand First. Even though the Greens very well could sneak ahead of NZ First after specials, the likelier three-part arrangement would be Labour with New Zealand First, and the Greens dragged despondently along – an echo of the 2005 deal. That was a bit different, though, not least because Helen Clark’s Labour won almost twice as many seats as Don Brash’s National.
There is no rule that the biggest party gets to form a government. But it’s always been that way, since 1996. Pending some surprise, the first conversation will be between Bill English and Winston Peters. It’s unlikely either would feel the need to wait for special votes to be counted to get on with it.
That won’t be the easiest marriage. It was English, after all, that seconded the motion to chuck Winston out of the National caucus in 1992. It’s anyone’s guess just what Peters will demand by way of concessions.
Among the saddest outcomes of the night is the annihilation of the Māori Party. Marama Fox is the officially the Spinoff’s favourite politician, and it’s a fucking shame she won’t be back in parliament.
Apart from anything else, this was not how MMP was meant to be. Every election under the proportional system, introduced in 1996, has given us a parliament with six or more parties. Now we’re down to five, and one of them is the ACT Party, which is only there thanks to National’s patronage. It could well be that only three parties hold electorate seats.
Jacinda Ardern, whose achievement in lifting Labour from the doldrums of seven weeks ago is huge by any measure, faced a difficult task tonight when she stood to speak to the Labour faithful in Auckland tonight. She could hardly concede, but neither could she pretend this was victory. She judged it perfectly. “I simply cannot predict at this point what decisions other leaders will make,” she said, pledging not to drop the relentlessly positive mentality.
But tonight is Bill English’s night. The embrace of post-truth politics in the form of the fiscal hole and the tax hyperbole may yet come back to haunt him. But after 2002, he got back up. A few weeks ago, he looked like he’d be flattened again by the irresistible Ardern tide. He held his footing. Good luck wrestling with Winston.