13 March 2014

The Winston factor

People, including myself, have given Winston Peters a bit of a hard time for playing an ambiguous game regarding which of the major parties he would support in government after this coming election. Various commentators, and even the PM himself, insist upon pre-electoral transparency from Peters. They argue that voters should know what kind of government the party they are voting for wants to support – and what kind it would oppose. Mr Peters has avoided giving a direct answer to the question 'Labour or National?' He argues that the voters do not like government-formation to be stitched up prior to their making their preferences known at the ballot-box.
Having heard Peters talk recently, though, it appears to me that his position is not really all that ambiguous. NZ First is a centre party and can go either way – or it can, as at present, happily occupy the cross-benches. Peters has indicated that, in the first instance, he would talk with (but not necessarily support) the party with the largest vote (almost certainly to be National). If there is no meeting of minds there, he could then potentially talk with Labour. But again he quite reasonably says that there would have to be some common ground on policy and office-sharing. The tricky question for Peters and Labour, though, would be the relationship with the Greens. Peters has said in the past that he would not support Labour in office if they included the Greens as a support partner. He has not explicitly said the same this time around, so far (unless I've missed something). But any potential deal with Labour is likely to be complicated by that factor.
If all deal-making falls through for NZ First, or if either National or Labour is able to form a government without NZ First's support, then Peters is prepared to stay in opposition.
Overall, then, his pre-electoral position is neither ambiguous nor hard to understand. And, as a centrist party, NZ First need not state a clear pre-electoral preference. NZ First has options, and wants reasonably to keep those options open until the numbers are known after the election. The term 'king-maker' is misleading, as a party in NZ First's position does not 'decide' who will govern. In all likelihood, it will be National that calls the shots and chooses whom they want to negotiate with, and in what order, after the election.
If Peters did state a preference for Labour or National, it could scare voters off, to the right or to the left, depending on what his stated preference was. If some voters are uncomfortable with Mr Peters' currently open-ended approach, then they don't have to vote for his party.
How much more 'transparency' is needed?
Mr Key has not ruled NZ First out this time around. So, I'm predicting a National-led government forming after this election, probably with support from NZ First. By the time the election is over, you will have forgotten you read this, so I'm on safe ground if I got it wrong!


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