The traditionally conservative National Party and left-leaning Labour Party have dominated New Zealand political life since a Labour government came to power in 1935. During its first 14 years in office, the Labour Party implemented a broad array of social and economic legislation, including comprehensive social security, a large-scale public works program, a 40-hour workweek, a minimum basic wage, and compulsory unionism. The National Party won control of the government in 1949 and adopted many welfare measures instituted by the Labour Party. Except for two brief periods of Labour governments in 1957-60 and 1972-75, National held power until 1984. After regaining control in 1984, the Labour government instituted a series of radical market-oriented reforms in response to New Zealand's mounting external debt. It also enacted anti-nuclear legislation that effectively brought about New Zealand's suspension from the ANZUS security alliance with the United States and Australia.
In October 1990, the National Party again formed the government, for the first of three 3-year terms. In 1996, New Zealand inaugurated a mixed-member proportional (MMP) system to elect its parliament. The system was designed to increase representation of smaller parties in parliament and appears to have done so in the MMP elections to date. Since 1996, neither the National nor the Labour Party has had an absolute majority in parliament, and for all but one of those years, the government has been a minority one.
The Labour Party won elections in November 1999 and again in July 2002. In 2002 Labour formed a coalition, minority government with the Progressive Coalition, a left-wing party holding two seats in parliament. The government relied on support from the centrist United Future Party to pass legislation. New Zealand's Prime Minister since 1999, Helen Clark, came from the left wing of the New Zealand Labour Party. She has also been a leader of the anti-nuclear movement. New Zealand became a nuclear free zone in 1987. New Zealand had been an outspoken critic of French nuclear testing in the South Pacific. Pastnuclear differences between the United States and New Zealand have beenexacerbated in recent years by other policy differences. Clark did not help bilateral relations with the United States when she stated that the Iraq war would not have occurred under a Democrat-led American government.
Following a narrow victory in the September 2005 general elections, Labour formed a coalition with the one-seat Progressive Party. The government also entered into limited support agreements with the United Future New Zealand and NZ First Parties, whose leaders were respectively given the Revenue and Foreign Affairs ministerial positions outside of the cabinet. This gave Labour an effective one-seat majority with which to pass legislation in parliament. Labour also secured an assurance from the Green Party that it would abstain from a vote of confidence against the government. The 2005 elections saw the new Maori Party win four out of the seven reserved Maori seats. The additional seat in the 121-member parliament was the result of an overhang from 2005 elections. There were two independent members of parliament (MPs): a former Labour Party MP and a former United Future New Zealand MP, both of whom left their respective parties in 2007.
By Kiwi standards, the 2006 political climate was defined by unprecedented levels of tit-for-tat personal mudslinging and vitriol. PM Helen Clark's withering attack on National Party leader Dr. Don Brash sent National surging ahead in NZ political polls. In September 2006, Clark called for a halt to smears on MPs' personal lives and, in the next sentence, called Brash "corrosive and cancerous". National claimed the PM's attack was designed to distract attention from National's allegations the Government had illegally used public money on its electoral campaign. The Nats' prediction that the name calling would backfire against Labour appeared to have been borne out in the polls. Labour's problems are compounded by the Greens decision not to support Labour's proposal for legislation validating Labour's election spending.
The 2008 general election on November 8 was comfortably won by the John Key-led National Party. National won 45% of the popular vote (58 seats) to Labour's 34% (43 seats). The Green Party won nine seats; ACT won five; the Maori Party picked up an additional Maori seat to bring its total number of seats to five; the Progressives and United Future won one seat each. New Zealand First, the party of former foreign minister Winston Peters, did not win enough votes to return to parliament. On November 16, Key announced the formation of a new National-led center-right government in coalition with the right-leaning ACT and the centrist United Future party. National also entered into a limited support agreement with the Maori Party. Collectively, this gave the government 69 votes to pass legislation in the new 122-member parliament, the two extra seats the results of an overhang from the election. The leaders of ACT and United Future were respectively given the local government and revenue ministerial portfolios. ACT's co-leader was given the consumer affairs ministerial portfolio. The co-leaders of the Maori Party were each given the Maori affairs and community ministerial portfolios, although their posts are outside of cabinet with the right to dissent on other policy issues outside portfolio areas. The government was sworn in on November 19, 2008, with Key becoming New Zealand's 38th prime minister.
During her election night concession speech, outgoing Prime Minister Helen Clark announced that she would step down as Labour's leader after 15 years in charge. She was succeeded as party leader by Phil Goff. Clark resigned from parliament on April 8, 2009 to become the Administrator of the United Nations Development Program in New York. The 49th parliament commenced on December 8, 2008 and resumed session on February 8, 2011 after a customary summer recess. The next general election was scheduled to be held on November 26, 2011.
On 26 November 2011 New Zealand opposition leader Phil Goff conceded defeat in national elections to Prime Minister John Key's center-right National Party. With all polling places counted, preliminary results show the Nationals won 48 percent of the votes, falling short of an absolute majority. That means Mr. Key would form a coalition government with the support of minority parties. The Labor Party came in second with 27 percent of the votes. Official results were due to be announced December 10. Mr. Key's National Party has held power for the past three years with the support of three minor parties after ousting a center-left Labor Party-led coalition government in 2008.
The 21 September 2014 election was won by the incumbent right-wing National Party, which gathered more than 47 percent of the vote, and will form the new government. John Key was set to lead New Zealand for another three years with 61 seats - more seats than National won in 2011 - a one seat majority, unprecedented in 18 years of Governments under Mixed Member Proportional (MMP). He said he would aim to govern with ACT, United Future and the Maori Party, but did not rule out "finding some common ground" with NZ First. Key would not need NZ First to govern. Labour battled to 32 seats, and the Greens 13. The center-left can not form a Government, even with the 11 seats NZ First claimed, or with UnitedFuture (one seat), or the Maori Party (two seats). The Conservatives failed to reach the 5 per cent threshold.
A coalition of anti-establishment politicians and internet freedom advocates led by entrepreneur Kim Dotcom – who promised to shake up New Zealand politics – suffered a humiliating defeat at the country’s parliamentary elections. The Internet-Mana party gained just 26,500 votes – 1.3 percent of the total, and short of the five percent needed to cross the parliament threshold. With half the parliament seats contested through proportional representation, and half in a first-past-the-post local election, the party also lost its only previous locally elected MP, Hone Harawira, who couldn’t hold onto his seat. The Internet-Mana coalition, formed in May, always appeared like somewhat awkward bedfellows, with Mana – a predominantly Maori left-wing party – promising free education and significant nationalization, and the Internet Party focusing on technology and citizens’ rights.
Prime Minister John Key suddenly resigned on 5 December 2016. Key said it was "the hardest decision I've ever made ... To me, this feels like the right time to go." Key's biggest regret - "at a somewhat superficial level not getting the flag through, although I accepts it's not the most important issue." Key said wanting to rediscover family life was just one of many factors that led to his decision. Another was not wanting to replicate other political leaders who stayed too long.
Former National party leader Don Brash said John Key had enjoyed being Prime Minister and ego-boosting meetings with world leaders but he has been guilty of tinkering rather than making major changes. Mana leader Hone Harawira says John Key had been a great leader for the rich. Harawira said naked greed has been the hallmark of Key's tenure and Maori have suffered massive loss during that time.
Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Bill English was the front-runner for the leadership. English, who led the National Party to a disastrous election defeat in 2002, has Mr Key's support.
New Zealand Finance Minister Bill English was sworn in 12 December 2016 as the country's new prime minister after the surprise announcement that John Key was stepping down after eight years in the role. English, a former farmer with degrees in commerce and literature, said he is "excited and humbled" by his new job. He was taking over at a time when New Zealand was doing well economically.
New Zealand general elections are held every 3 years. Prime Minister Bill English announced this year’s General Election would be held on Saturday, 23 September 2017.
National will be campaigning on its strong record in Government and will go into the election with a positive and ambitious programme that will back New Zealanders to succeed. English said “Our economy continues to grow and diversify, more kids are staying at school longer and getting better qualifications, more people are getting faster and more efficient healthcare, we are investing at record levels in key infrastructure projects like schools, roads and ultra-fast broadband and we are supporting our most vulnerable by increasing benefit rates and investing in programmes to support them into work."
According to the Newshub-Reid Research poll on 15 June 2017, with 100 days to go until the election, National was holding strong and steady on 47.4 percent. But Labour was falling way back on 26.4 percent. The potential kingmaker, New Zealand First was up to 9.4 percent - a record high on this poll. National was set to get 58 seats in the House, and with its three support partners, it would reach the required 61 to govern. For the Labour/Green alliance, even after combined, it was only set to get 48 seats total. Even if it got New Zealand First's 12 seats, the Left would only get to 60 - not enough.
Most observers expected a National led coalition similar to 2014. Under this outcome, the National, Maori, ACT and United Future parties between them would have a majority of seats in Parliament (as per the post-2014 government); but National would not have enough to govern by themselves.
Peter Ellis forecasted the most likely outcome as neither the National/Maori/ACT/United Future nor the Labour/Green combination would have a majority of seats, but either of them could form a majority with support from New Zealand First. Note that this included some scenarios where Labour + Greens + New Zealand First seats exactly tie with National + Maori + ACT + United Future.
Political scientist Bryce Edwards said "I think this election is going to bore people a lot. It's going to be a fairly bland affair and without anyone like a Jeremy Corbyn to electrify youth and be that lightening rod, we're not going to see any sort of youth-quake in this election. It's going to be a youth yawn if anything."
Voters who are overseas can vote from 6 September to 23 September. 23 June 2017 marked teh start of the regulated period - the three month period before election day where candidate, party and third party election expense limits apply for advertising published during this period. Third parties (all those who are not parties or candidates) were encouraged to engage in elections by promoting issues important to them.
Based on the early count, National would have 58 seats in the House, short of the 61 needed for a majority. It could only count on the one seat brought to the table by ACT and would need another partner to govern. The Maori Party failed to win any seats. National had 46.0 percent of the vote, with Labour on 35.8 percent and the Green Party on 5.9 percent. With no single party able to form a government alone, NZ First's 7.5 percent suggested NZ First leader Winston would effectively decide the make-up of Parliament for the next three years. While a new government had not yet formed, and special votes had not yet been counted, Parliament would definitely look different over the next few years. Each party's proportions were expected to change, and there would be no United Future or Maori Party in Parliament.