Just when Jacinda needed Germany most
When Jacinda Ardern stepped up, Labour was on 24% and National was at 47%.
Once the special votes are counted, which include whatever youthquake or youth-tremor has occurred, the New Zealand National Party share will be lucky to be 45%, which means that about 55%minus ACT’s half point voted for change.
While a 10-percentage-point rejection of the status quo is significant, it is probably insufficient to have New Zealanders contemplate doing what the Germans have done for the last 12 years: be governed by a grand coalition of their equivalent of Labour and National. In the event, Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Unionactually Merkel leads the alliance of the Christian Democratic Union and the much smaller Bavarian Christian Social Union, while still easily the highest scoring party, today finds itself as desperate for friends as National, just at the time the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany party storms into the Bundestag. Perversely, Merkel’s erstwhile ally, the Social Democratic Party, has decided to go into opposition against her, rather than cede that status to Alternative for Germany.
All organisations, but particularly political parties, resent impediments to their power. So, the more coalition partners, the more challenging the task of sharing the power to govern. But the ideal of representative democracy is not that a party or block with a slight numerical advantage should dictate to the other 49.17%it would be 49.58 if Parliament had an odd number, and one fewer representative. Why the potential for ties was built into the number of representatives—120—is, odd.. Some regard political parties as the root of all representative-democracy evil. But before there were parties there were factions, and formalised, transparent factions are infinitely preferable to clandestine ones. The maturity urgently needed, given the lack of action on the existential issue of anthropogenic global warming, is for parties to be judged by how collaboratively they work after the electoral chips fall.
Staggeringly, after 70 years of mixed-member-proportional, Germany has just shown itself little more sophisticated than Aotearoa, after its 21 years, at coalition government. While the, only recently anticipated, success of the far-right Alternative for Germany is cause for concern—and it is doubtful that its supporters believe in democracy any more than did those of National Socialist German Workers’ Party in 1920—its puny 13% share of the vote shouldn’t have the balance of the Bundestag scrabbling to form a coalition with a bare majority. Nor, in Aotearoa, should a party representing 45% of voters be summarily side-lined—it is a recipe for righteous resentment, and the prompt and vindictive reversal of the other’s initiatives and interventions, at the first opportunity.
While proportional representation was a necessary and desirable progression in the evolution of representative democracy, it has inadvertently appropriated the collective democratic right of voters to determine which party or parties govern. To use the German example, Social Democratic Party voters should have had the power to direct which parties theirs must embrace or spurn in coalition. If that democratic right had been enabled ahead of Saturday’s election, New Zealand voters would currently be facing far less uncertainty, unhelped by the arbitrary two-week delay in revealing special-vote figures.
Given the long-term imperative to do everything reasonable to encourage young people to engage with democracy, keeping those who were persuaded to register and special-vote, during the fortnight before the election, dangling is unhelpful in the extreme; that cohort deserves to know if it made a difference—democracy delayed is democracy denied. Mind, for sheer arrogance Angela Merkel has just put Winston Peters in the shade, telling the German people that they will know before Christmas the makeup of the coalition she will lead. Meantime, the success of advance voting, 57% of those castexcluding overseas votes, means there is no good reason why young people can’t enrol and vote on election day, when electoral interest climaxes.
Just when Jacinda Ardern needed her as a good, grand-coalition role model, Angela Merkel’s Jamaican optionnamed for the colours of the parties, which correspond to those of Jamaica’s flag of cobbling together a bare majority with the Greens and the Liberals is looking most likely, given that Angela’s former coalition partner, the equivalent of Jacinda’s Labour Party, has declared it will go into opposition. The black, yellow and green coalition would have a majority of nine, which, while it might sound generous to New Zealanders, as a percentage is only an eighth of the about 10-percentage-point advantage that a Labour – New Zealand First – Green coalition would enjoy, if Winston Peters was to jump that way.
The 8% electoral support that the German green party receives probably underrepresents the greenness of Germans to the same extent New Zealand’s Green Party underrepresents that of New Zealanders. Likewise, the 13% won by Alternative for Germany, greatly underrepresents German anti-immigrant sentiment, which, at 44%, in Europe is second only to Italy and France—small wonder Merkel is making conciliatory noises to the right. While turnout is up nearly five percentage points in Germany’s election, because of and in response to the far-right bid for power, nearly a quarter of registered voters failed to participate. While turnout in Aotearoa is higher—and up 1 point to 78.8%—there is no room for complacency. The combination of low turnout, a two-party system, and the two most unpopular presidential candidates has left the world at the mercy of a rogue president and a rogue state, one armed to the nuclear teeth, the other, just sufficiently to provoke the former.
Regardless of whether they were served up a New Zealand First-beholden Labour–Green government, or a New Zealand First-beholden National one, half of Aotearoa would be deeply aggrieved, and petty party politics would dominate the next three years, in place of the action urgently needed on climate, accommodation and poverty. Some commentators scoff at any suggestion of a Labour–National grand coalition, oblivious of the 12-year Merkel-led example, but it would take about two parliamentary minutes before it seemed the most natural, not to mention reasonable, thing in the world.
Aotearoa has a Jacinda-sent opportunity to go one better than German-style grand coalition, and have all those electedonce the specials correct the electoral scales put aside party positioning, and work their collaborative butts off for the common good.