Teflon John wins New Zealand Election

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key has steered his National party to victory, securing 48 per cent of the national vote, the first single-party parliamentary majority since New Zealand moved to its Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) electoral system in 1996.

The centre-right party will return to power for a third consecutive term under John Key’s leadership.

National’s win is enough to gain them a likely 61 seats in the 121 seat Parliament. It is a disaster for the Labour party which trailed on 25 per cent, after leader David Cunliffe, backed by less than a third of the Labour party caucus in the 2013 leadership ballot, failed to garner support for his proposals to raise the minimum wage and bolster public spending.

The Green party fell short of their 15 per cent aim, coming in at 10 per cent and the populist New Zealand First Party, which had been picked as a likely kingmaker, followed behind on 9 per cent. The Internet-Mana party, an unlikely strategic alliance between Internet entrepreneur Kim Dotcom and Maori Party break-away Hone Harawira, failed to win any seats.

Key acknowledged that MMP was designed to promote partnership between parties and said he would be talking to United Future, the Maori Party and ACT as possible collaborators, the same group of parties with which he was previously allied.

With a background in commerce, Key cut his teeth as a foreign exchange dealer. As global head of foreign exchange for Merrill Lynch, he was known as “the smiling assassin” for maintaining his cheery disposition while making numerous (some say hundreds of) lay-offs in the midst of the 1998 Russian financial crisis. He has proved similarly charming and ruthless in his political career, remaining central to – and yet unscathed by – scandals surrounding the international convention centre deal with Sky City Casino, the Government’s subsidisation of Rio-Tinto Alcan, party cronyism, illegal spying, electoral fraud within his coalition, and the undermining of the Serious Fraud Office by his Cabinet, earning him the new nickname “teflon John” – given nothing damaging to his reputation ever seems to “stick”.

Key campaigned on stability and sound economic management, although some claim his party called the election early because it expects the economy to slump later this year. And certainly, Key has presided over economic growth, rising inequality and protection of the country’s wealthiest with cuts to public services, tax subsidies for South Canterbury Finance and Rio-Tinto, the sweetheart deal with Sky City Casino, and the partial privatisation of various state-owned assets including Mighty River Power, Air New Zealand and Meridian.

He is likely to kick off his new term by laying the Employment Relations Amendment Bill, and its sister legislation, the Employment Relations (Continuity of Labour) Amendment Bill, which will limit the right to fair wage negotiation and standard setting, allowing the casual labour workforce to replace fulltime workers during a strike, permitting employers to walk away from collective bargaining, and preventing some workers from finding out why they have been dismissed. Unsurprising considering the ‘John Key narrative’ prioritises individual aspiration over equality of opportunity, but nevertheless worrying given Key’s own accomplishments were made in the context of Keynesian Social Democracy and the Welfare State, a political climate very different to that of National’s now third term New Zealand today.