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   Vol.66/No.33           September 2, 2002  
 
 
Labour Party wins New Zealand vote
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BY FELICITY COGGAN  
AUCKLAND, New Zealand--The governing Labour Party was returned to office in general elections in New Zealand July 27 with a higher share of the vote and three more seats in the 120-member parliament.

The results, however, fell short of the party leadershipís expectations in calling the election some three months early. Registering more than 50 percent support in opinion polls at the time, it had hoped to win enough votes to govern alone. With 52 seats, Labour has been compelled to form a minority government with the Progressive Coalition, which won two seats. The party has also reached an agreement for support on confidence and money supply votes with the United Future Party, which won eight seats.

Only 77 percent of voters turned out for the election, the lowest in the 45-year period for which records have been kept.

In its previous term, Labour had governed in coalition with the Alliance Party, which held 10 seats, and with the support in parliament on confidence of the Green Party. Heading into the election, the Alliance split over New Zealandís participation in the imperialist intervention in Afghanistan. While the partyís members of parliament (MPs) voted with Labour to commit military forces, many Alliance members wanted it to take more distance from the decision. As further conflicts emerged over whether the Alliance would assert a more independent image, leader James Anderton left to form the Progressive Coalition to continue full support for the Labour Party government. The remaining Alliance Party won no seats in this election.  
 
National Party in disarray
The vote for the National Party, the traditional party of the ruling class in New Zealand and the governing party for most of the post-World War II period, plummeted to 21 percent, its lowest since the party was founded in 1935. Labourís share of the vote was 41 percent. National ended up with 27 seats, 12 fewer than in the last term.

Since the election, the National Party has been in turmoil, with calls for the resignation of party president Michelle Boag, and MP Maurice Williamson, an opponent of Boag, refusing to accept his new lower ranking in the partyís parliamentary caucus.

The election result was largely welcomed in ruling circles. The New Zealand Herald editorialized August 9 that "common sense has won" and that the outcome "offers fairly much the best possible prospect for a full term of stable government." Herald business editor Frances OíSullivan commented that the new parliament "represents fertile ground on which to sow pro-business policies."

The paper noted that the election took place amid "looming economic clouds that suggest this term will be far more difficult than Labourís first." Farm income, though still at record highs, is predicted to drop 18 percent, and the rising New Zealand dollar is beginning to erode export revenue.

The Herald applauded the fact that the election result had "effectively neutered the Greens." The Greens, a bourgeois party that to date has cast its policies to the left of Labour, made opposition to the commercial release and field trials of genetically modified organisms the flagship of its campaign. The party campaigned on nationalist and protectionist themes, and made a special pitch to youth, with policies aimed at students, and so-called pro-environment schemes such as "ecological" taxes. It took nine seats.  
 
Gains by New Zealand First
The most notable outcome of the election was the resurgence in support for the rightist New Zealand First Party, which increased its share of the vote from 4 percent to 10 percent, and more than doubled its parliamentary seats to 13. Its leader, Winston Peters, increased his personal majority from a bare 63 votes to almost 10,000.

Peters ran an explicitly rightist campaign, focusing his publicity and speeches on three themes: for slashing immigration, against Maori rights and what he termed the corrupt Maori "grievance industry," and for tougher "law and order" measures. He brandished a three-finger salute to symbolize this, and adopted the slogan of a popular cartoon character of "Can we fix it? Yes we can," which he encouraged supporters to chant at meetings.

Peters claimed to discuss issues that were "off-limits--important things that need to be said and cannot be spoken of." He blamed immigrants for problems in the health and education systems, and for being responsible for boosting inflation and interest rates, Aucklandís traffic gridlock, and the countryís AIDS levels. He called immigrants "gate-crashing asylum seekers" from "alien cultures and rigid religious practices."

The rightist politician saved particular barbs for liberals and the "political elite" that "share an internationalist global view. These people regard being patriotic as hopelessly old-fashioned and parochial," he said. "Their ideal is to have a villa in Tuscany, a time share in Wanaka and a job with a United Nations agency blaming the developed countries for all the ills of the world."

Outside of the campaign of the Communist League, which stood two candidates, there was no voice that spoke in the interests of working people in this election. The Alliance campaigned for more funds for health and education and for "social justice," saying that it would "keep Labour honest on behalf of working people." At the same time the party backed up its MPsí vote in support of New Zealandís imperialist intervention in Afghanistan. The centrist Socialist Workers Organization, which did not field candidates itself, called for a vote for the Greens.  
 
Communist League campaign
The Communist League campaign joined with the resistance of working people. Supporters of the campaign joined protests of teachers and high school students over funding and pay demands, Maori opposed to construction of a prison in Northland, hospital workers fighting for a contract, and tertiary students marching to protest the governmentís student loan scheme.

The campaign also released a statement opposing the police harassment of Mohammed Saffi, an Iraqi-born New Zealand citizen, after he was jailed and deported by United States authorities on a spurious charge of a visa violation.

The candidates received warm support from fellow workers, along with suggestions for the campaign. At the Christchurch garment factory where candidate Baskaran Appu works, a workmate held a fund-raising raffle and gave out leaflets as she sold tickets.

The Sunday Star Times, a nationwide paper, published a major article explaining the campaignís views.

The candidates also spoke on a number of panels on the election. Following one such meeting at an Auckland polytechnic campus, a student called in to say that he thought the program and stance of the socialist campaign were "just what was needed" and wanted to find out more about the Communist League and Young Socialists and their activities.  
 
 
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