New Zealand party positioning

With an election on 26 November (and most of the country currently distracted by rugby), the pre-electoral legislative business is offering a good window into how the parties are positioning themselves for the campaign.

The current government is led by the National Party, which won a plurality of seats in the 2008 election. It is supported by three smaller parties, the farther-right Act, the one-seat United Future (sort of centrist, sort of social-conservative), and the ethnic Maori Party.

Act is all about pushing National farther right, and it is because of that Act goal that National took on Maori as partners, even though it could have had a majority without Maori. Needing to avoid straying too far from the national (small-n) median, the National Party would not want to be overly dependent upon the fringe right.

Two recent press releases from Act sum up its position well. In one, the party claims credit for protecting rights and freedoms–emphasizing its libertarian side:

ACT Parliamentary Leader John Boscawen today confirmed he had negotiated from the Government major changes in the Criminal Procedure (Reform and Modernisation) Bill that would mean the continued protection of rights and freedoms that New Zealanders have held dear for generations.

“I had fundamental objections to the Bill but after successful negotiations with Justice Minister Simon Power all my objections have now been addressed,” Mr Boscawen said.

It then goes on to list a series of specific concessions it claims to have won in exchange for its support.

In another, it differentiates itself from the National party over the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS). A little background is in order. This program was originally enacted late in the previous parliament, in the run-up to the 2008 election, when Labour headed a minority government. That government was backed by United Future and the New Zealand First Party of Winston Peters. ((A hard party, and leader, to characterize. Sometimes, based on media stories, I actually wonder if his name was not officially The Mercurial Winston Peters. The party has a constituency that is anti-immigrant and pro “law and order”, and disproportionately elderly. It did not make it back into parliament in 2008 and probably will not this time, either.)) At the time United Future would not support the ETS, and so the government worked out some concessions demanded by the Greens, who were not formal partners to the government. The Greens issued their own press release then, touting how they had improved the bill (from the standpoint of their constituents).

Then when National won, it immediately stayed the implementation of the ETS. It later negotiated changes with the Maori (who won the right to earn credits from planting trees on tribal lands). Act would not vote in favor of any changes to the ETS. They believe climate change is a hoax, and want the law scrapped. This week they reminded their supporters of this position.

ACT New Zealand Parliamentary Leader John Boscawen today called on the Government to drop the pretence and scrap the Emissions Trading Scheme altogether after the ETS Review Panel report recommended delaying the introduction of the energy, transport, industrial and agricultural sectors into the scheme.

“Today’s report confirms what ACT has been saying all along; the ETS is a disaster and should be scrapped. […]

“The report today does a great job of highlighting the scheme’s flaws but does little to remedy them. Instead of delaying the inevitable the Government should have the courage of its convictions and do what ACT has called for all along – scrap the ETS,” Mr Boscawen said.

Meanwhile, the National Party and the Greens have been negotiating on areas of mutual interest. That they would ever work together may seem odd, as they represent opposite ends of the political space, leaving aside Act. However, multiparty politics, especially with minority government, opens up all sorts of interesting possibilities for policy progress in specific areas of overlap.

The two parties have announced a deal on a bill to regulate natural health products. The bill passed its first reading in parliament earlier today. It was a shared policy initiative agreed between these two parties under a Memorandum of Understanding. This is something far short of a formal government-support partnership, but a process that permits the Greens to pass policy of interest to their constituency even from the opposition. As for National, presumably they saw a benefit from advancing the safety and reliability of this sector of the market and could never get Act to go along. ((Notwithstanding that its party name originally meant the Alliance of Consumers and Taxpayers, and this is a consumer safety measure. Act has a low-tax, low-regulation ideology.)) Greens have long looked for chances to show that they are not an appendage of Labour, able to work only with that party. Here is one concrete example.

The Greens have a press release about the natural health bill featured very prominently on the party web site as of today. National also has a press release on it, but rather less prominently. The statements are subtly different, with Greens emphasizing the “stand alone regulator” to deal with natural health products coming “more and more… from countries with a poor safety record” and the benefits to “small business” (presumably natural supplement retailers are part of their constituency). National emphasizes “public assurances about the safety and efficacy of natural health products” and concluding by noting the “three-year transitional period to assist the industry in adjusting to the proposed requirements”.

As to the Greens’ dealing with National, the main opposition party, Labour, has attacked the smaller left party as being “more Blue than Green“, as reported in the NZ Herald, 14 Sept. (Blue is National’s color.) The specific issue referenced is Green support for the government’s environmental protection plan for potential offshore oil and gas fields. ((The Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf (Environmental Effects) Bill passed its second reading with support from Maori Party, Act, United Future, as well as the Greens. The Greens have not committed yet to supporting it all the way through the legislative process, depending on its final provisions.)) Labour, with polls showing it having no realistic chance of forming the next government, is clearly trying to out flank the Greens and hold off further losses to the them. Polls show the Green Party may score a record high in the upcoming election.

Finally, going back to an old story, as the government was formed following the close 2005 election, I posed the question, “Did the NZ government agreement promise pork?” I concluded no, because the agreement did not promise to the United Future that the “Transmission Gully” road would be built to relieve traffic around leader Peter Dunne’s district. It only promised a review of the project. Well, according to two items on the National website this week (1, 2), the project is still under review. So not much pork for Dunne to claim credit for in this election–only that, six years later, we still have the government looking in to it!

The New Zealand campaign and legislative sessions afford an excellent laboratory to watch multiparty politics, policy-making, and party positioning in action!

Green filibuster

One US tradition I hope we don’t adopt.

Filibusters are familiar to followers of American politics. A lone senator talks into the night in order to prevent a vote on a bill. They’re not often seen in Australian houses of parliament — that’s because most houses impose limits on how long parliamentarians can speak for. Not so in NSW.

Last week, Greens MLC David Shoebridge broke a record when he addressed the NSW Legislative Council for just under six hours on the topic of Barry O’Farrell’s new industrial relations laws. All those years as a barrister came in handy. He started on Thursday evening at 6.15pm and the debate went on, carried by other windy Greens and Labor MLCs until the guillotine was dropped and debate cut on Saturday morning. Those voting for the bill didn’t have much to contribute to the debate.

Although I am pleased to note that Shoebridge had to actually talk on his feet rather than notify the leader of the government in the council that he might talk for a really, really long time if he didn’t get everything he wanted. Immediately. And a pony.

The US Senate filibuster is famous. Is there ever a democratic case for a supermajority in a legislative body? Could it be made more rational than the US filibuster in its present incarnation? Denmark lets a legislative minority impose a referendum. I am quite attracted to the ‘filibuster’ provision in the UN Charter.

Article 18

  1. Each member of the General Assembly shall have one vote.
  2. Decisions of the General Assembly on important questions shall be made by a two-thirds majority of the members present and voting. These questions shall include: recommendations with respect to the maintenance of international peace and security, the election of the non-permanent members of the Security Council, the election of the members of the Economic and Social Council, the election of members of the Trusteeship Council in accordance with paragraph 1 (c) of Article 86, the admission of new Members to the United Nations, the suspension of the rights and privileges of membership, the expulsion of Members, questions relating to the operation of the trusteeship system, and budgetary questions.
  3. Decisions on other questions, including the determination of additional categories of questions to be decided by a two-thirds majority, shall be made by a majority of the members present and voting.

Could Canada’s Greens win a seat?

In 2010, Greens won their first seat in each of two of Her Majesty’s Realms (UK and Australia*). Could Canada’s Greens follow suit in 2011?

The Globe and Mail today has an interview with party leader Elizabeth May, who has relocated across the country from Nova Scotia, where she ran last time. This time she is the party’s candidate in Saanich-Gulf Islands, in British Columbia.

She explains the politics behind the move:

On the political side the Green Party decided after the 2008 election that perhaps they’d made a mistake not making my riding a priority. … The party had an epiphany … the council members were saying “good heavens, we did so well in this election, we got one million votes and all we’re getting is abuse … people are saying we didn’t elect the leader, but we weren’t even trying to elect the leader!” It was kind of a thought bubble that stayed dangling over the room while people started thinking, “Why didn’t we try to elect the leader? …”

I said you have to do some research … and Saanich-Gulf Islands emerged in every analysis as the place in the country where more voters were … excited about, in large numbers, the idea of electing the leader of the Green Party.**

In 2008 in the riding (district) the Conservative MP Gary Lunn was reelected with 43.4% over Liberal candidate Briony Penn, on 39.4%. The Green candidate, Andrew Lewis, came in third with 10.5%.

The Greens actually did far better in 2008 in several ridings in Ontario, even coming in second in one or two. But their research said this BC riding was the one to go for, and May claims (though take this with a grain of salt) that their own internal polling says it’s a two-candidate race between her and Lunn.

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* Referring here to single-seat contests in the House of Representatives. They had held seats for a while in the PR-elected Senate.

** All ellipses in the quoted passage are in the original, except for the last one of the first paragraph.

A Green dream come true

It’s official, the Green Party has “won” the Baden-Wurttemberg state assembly election today. It won 24.2%, nearly doubling its showing of 12.5% in the last election. Via DW:

“It’s a dream come true… we could never have dreamed of a result like this a few days ago,” said Franz Untersteller, a Green party spokesman.

To say the Greens “won” with less than 25% is, of course, in need of some qualification, given that this does not even make them the plurality party. That would be the Christian Democrats (CDU), on 39%. However, the Greens edged out the Social Democrats (23.1%), and the “Green-Red” combo thus has a majority. That means the Greens will have the premiership in the new coalition government.

The CDU’s partners, the Free Democrats (FDP), just held on to their place in the assembly, with 5.3%.

In neighboring Rhineland-Palatinate, the FDP fell below the 5% threshold and thus will not be in the assembly. There the incumbent SPD lots its majority (36.1), but the Greens won 15.1% (up by 10.5 points), making a Red-Green coalition the most likely result there.

As noted previously, the Green surge owes much to the Fukushima effect.

Baden-Wurttemberg: A Green-led government?

The state assembly election this Sunday in Baden-Württemberg has a decent chance to result in Germany’s first state premier from the Green Party.

The state has been led by the Christian Democrats, the party of German federal Chancellor (PM) Angela Merkel, for nearly 60 years. The party has slid in polls nationally recently, down to around 33%, according to Spiegel. Among the issues contributing to the slide, in addition to a plagiarist ex-minister, is the government’s stance on nuclear power. It recently announced a temporary shutdown of seven nuclear reactors in response to the Fukushima crisis. In Baden-Württemberg, the political problem for premier Stefan Mappus and his CDU is even especially acute:

Mappus’ problems, however, go beyond his party’s sinking numbers nationwide. The Baden-Württemberg governor, after all, has long been a firm, even boisterous, supporter of nuclear energy. Last year, as Merkel’s government was preparing legislation to extend the lifespans of Germany’s 17 nuclear reactors, Mappus even went so far as to hint that Environment Minister Norbert Röttgen — a CDU party ally — should resign due to his reluctance to support the extension.

The combined Green-Social Democratic vote could be larger than that of the CDU and its partner the Free Democratic party.

Current polls show that even though the CDU can still count on 38 percent support on Sunday, it may not be enough to keep Mappus in power. His current coalition partners, the business-friendly Free Democratic Party (FDP), stand at 6 percent in the polls. The Social Democrats and the Green Party, for their part, add up to 47 percent support — three points ahead of the CDU-FDP alliance — with recent Green gains suggesting it may be possible that the party could claim the state’s governorship.* It that happens, it would be a first for the Greens in Germany.

The Greens and Social Democrats (SPD) are close in the poll, at 25% and 22%, respectively; the Green gain is 5 points in the past week (The Local).

The Green Party’s strength is not only due to Fukushima, as it has been gaining for months due to its leading of the opposition to a controversial redevelopment project in Stuttgart, the state capital.

If the Greens pass the SPD and the SPD-Green combo is greater than the CDU-FDP combo, the Green leader could become premier. That’s two “ifs” and both races are close. This will be one to watch.

Aside from some municipalities, is there a government anywhere that has been led by a Green chief executive?

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* Contrary to Spiegel, I prefer “premiership,” as that captures the fact that the state executive emerges from and is dependent upon the assembly majority.

The implosion of the Irish government

The implosion of the Irish government, and the main party in the governing coalition, Fianna Fail, has been quite a spectacle.

After narrowly surviving an internal leadership battle, Taoiseach (PM) Brian Cowen saw five of his own party’s cabinet ministers resign. Shortly thereafter, Cowen himself resigned–as party leader. It is very unusual in parliamentary democracies for the leader of the main party in government not to be the PM, but for the first time in the history of the Fianna Fail, the usual governing party in Ireland, that is now the case.

How long this anomaly can last–if it can even go till the now-scheduled 11 March general election–is anyone’s guess. Elections may have to be moved up, now that the main coalition partner, the Green Party, has pulled its support.

Early elections in Ireland

Irish Taoiseach (PM) Brian Cowen has announced that parliament will be dissolved following the passage of the upcoming austerity budget necessitated by the current financial crisis. The move became inevitable once the Green Party, coalition partners to Cowen’s Fianna Fail, demanded early elections. Cowen is also facing calls for his resignation from backbenchers of his own party.

Passing that budget will not be easy. In addition to the Green Party, the government also relies on several independent members, some of whom have said they may not vote for it. Just to complicate things yet further, the government is facing a by-election in a seat in Donegal South West.

ADDENDUM: The By-election is likely to be won by Sinn Fein, and it could be their best electoral showing ever.

And a recent poll of national voting intentions has Fianna Fail about as low as it has ever been, while Fine Gael and Labour are running higher than they have scored at just about any election. The Greens might fail to win a seat, and Sinn Fein is doing better than usual. The financial crisis might lead to quite a political shake-up.