Peters’ single super-coalition shot
If New Zealanders elected their prime minister, there would now be a clear winner.
And, unless it was under the old deeply undemocratic first-past-the-post system, that winner would be Winston Peters.
Because, while Jacinda Ardern and Bill English top the preferred-prime-minister polls, few of the 31.7% who preferred Ardern would have had English as their second preference, and vice versa for the 33.1% who preferred the latter. Indeed, the second preferences—in this hypothetical prime-ministerial election—would have seen Peters’ 6.9% polling, play out as a classic, come-from-behind three-horse race.
But even without the right to elect their own prime minister, Winston Peters could win that role by dragging New Zealanders out of the mire of polarised, two-party political trench warfare, and into super-coalition. Regardless of whether he props up a Labour-led or National-led government, Peters will be despised by the half of the populace summarily side-lined. But the same man could be the hero of the hour, and of the next three years, as prime minister of a government dedicated to advancing the policies that the four parties legitimately representedthe ACT party, in Parliament only through shameless manipulation of the coattails provision, cannot be considered to be legitimately represented can readily agree upon.
While, internationally, a Labour–National grand coalition would be unremarkable, Ardern as prime minister would be an anathema to National voters and vice versa English to Labour, the Greens, and to the two thirds of New Zealand First voters who have a preference for coalition with Labour. Rather than Peters extorting the top stop for himself, his acceptance of the role would be doing both major parties a massive favour, and the spectre of the tail wagging the dog would be utterly assuaged—the veteran politician would be only 9 votes of 120accept in the highly improbable case the speaker of the house, and her casting vote, was from the ranks of New Zealand First.
If Peters is positioning to make super-coalition the only game in town, he is certainly playing that card very close to his chest, given his advice that any decision will cause disappointment and anguish. Parliaments are peculiar in their paradigm of one lot determined to stymie the other lot, regardless of the merits of the particular policy initiative. The greatest legacy a Peters prime-ministership could leave would be a parliament fit for the purpose of tackling the uniquely 21st century, existential, challenge of meaningful climate action, left to the eleventh hour.
Aotearoa has resorted to grand coalition both in the First World War and during the Great Depression, which as horrendous as those events were, will pale when billions, and billions of dollars of infrastructure, begin to be hit by sea-level rise and unsurvivable climate.