New Zealand Politics – a brief history

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The 2017 election is almost upon us, and at this stage it is still too close to call with polls swinging in either direction. To be honest, as much as I have enjoyed the scandal and excitement that this election campaign has brought, I am truly looking forward to the outcome and it all being over.

There has been intense debates and robust discussions surrounding policy and candidates in the lead up to the election. But did you know that once upon a time, there were no political parties and that all candidates were independent?

The first New Zealand election took place in 1853, the year after Britain passed the NZ Constitution Act 1852. There were 37 MPs elected, representing 24 electorates and there were no political parties. Some areas had no representation, and some had only one candidate. Each seat was elected on a different day with the Bay of Islands the first electorate to hold elections on July 14, while Otago was the last on 1 October.

Our first elected Member of Parliament was Hugh Carleton who stood unopposed in the Bay of Islands. Henry Sewell was our first Colonial Secretary, the name given to early premiers. However, Sewell’s reign was very short, lasting a mere 14 days. To vote in the first election, you had to be a man, 21 years or older and own property or occupy a house of a certain value. The voting age was reduced to 20 in 1969 but didn’t change to 18 until 1974.

When voting first began, NZ’s voting methodology was the First Past the Post method. However, in the 1908 and 1911 elections NZ moved to a two round system, before switching back to FPP in 1914. The 1996 election was the first election under the new Mixed Member Proportional system we still use, although in 2011 there was a referendum on whether to keep the MMP system. 56.17% of voters chose to keep MMP.

The 1890 election marked the first election with political parties. The Liberals and the Conservatives went head to head, with the Liberal Party winning with 56.1% of the vote. ​John Ballance was the leader of the Liberal Party while Harry Atkinson was the leader of the Conservatives. The Liberal Government enacted major welfare, labour and electoral reforms, including giving the vote to women.

On 19 September, New Zealand became the first self-governing country in the world to give all women the right to vote. Most other democracies didn’t give women the right to vote until after the First World War. Kate Sheppard led the suffrage campaign, with petitions presented to parliament in 1891, 1892 and 1893, and is now the face of our $10 note.

Women were not allowed to stand for Parliament until 1919. Our first female MP was Elizabeth McCombs, a member of the Labour party, who in 1933 won the by-election for the Lyttelton seat. She took over from her husband who had died, and when she died 2 years later, was succeeded by her sone James McCombs who held the seat until 1951.

New Zealand has had 39 Prime Ministers or equivalents to date and two of those have been women. Jenny Shipley was the first female Prime Minister while Helen Clark was the first elected female Prime Minister. The longest serving PM was Richard Seddon who was in charge for 13 years and 5 weeks starting in 1893. Sir Francis Henry Dillon Bell was the first Prime Minister of New Zealand that was also born here and he was elected in 1925.

Hopefully this has been a welcome interlude and brief distraction from the pre-election chaos. Although unsure of who will win the election I’m sure we can all agree, that if recent polls are anything to go by, it’s going to come down to the wire. Polling remains mixed and both Labour and National appear to have snatched votes from the minor parties, with a number of them dwindling around tPohe 5% margin of error.

Despite being tired of the election hype, I will be watching the coverage of the election closely on Saturday to see whether National will get in for a fourth term, Labour pulls off the best comeback in election history securing the third female Prime Minister or to see who the kingmaker might be for the 52nd New Zealand election.


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