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Tuesday, 23 July, 2002, 20:45 GMT 21:45 UK
NZ Greens give Labour poll pains
New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark
Looking for an overall majority: Labour's Helen Clark

After three years of ruling through a coalition, Prime Minister Helen Clark is hoping her centre-left Labour party will be able to form the next government in its own right.

The party was ahead in the polls but may not be able to win a majority of seats.

Chart showing support for the Labour and Green parties
Latest polls suggest Labour will need partners to get a majority of seats
Some of the smaller parties might welcome a chance to have a voice in the government by being a coalition partner with Labour.

But the Greens have laid down stern demands for anyone wanting their support.

They ran a single-issue campaign focussing on genetically modified foods, which is building on significant unease about Labour's plans to lift a moratorium on field trials of the crops.

The Greens have threatened to bring down any government, including a Labour one, that lifts the moratorium.

Decision time

Political writer and commentator Chris Trotter said New Zealanders are using the issue to debate which direction they want to go - staying in the centre-left or moving further to the left.

"Prime Minister Helen Clark has certainly colonised the centre ground very successfully over the past two-and-a-half years," he said.

New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark voting
Helen Clark has gained control of the centre ground, analysts say
"But the real issue is: shall she be given enough votes to govern in her own right, without the need of a coalition partner, or will New Zealanders give her the Greens as a necessary partner in government?"

The decision could come down to people's views on the crop trials, he said.

"The issue of whether New Zealand will allow genetically engineered organisms into the wider environment is assuming centre stage."

Smaller parties such as the Greens can assume an important role under New Zealand's proportional electoral system, which is similar to that of Germany.

Some 62 of the 120 seats in parliament are filled by elected local representatives, seven by Maori representatives, and the remaining 51 are allocated to party lists based on the nationwide vote percentage received.

Winston Peters of New Zealand First
Unlikely partner: Winston Peters of New Zealand First
Helen Clark might just work with the Greens.

But she is on the record as saying she will never deal with the New Zealand First Party of former minister Winston Peters.

He preaches a stridently anti-immigration and racist message, warning of New Zealand being "flooded" by immigrants from Asia.

His opponents accuse him of cynical exploitation of the fears of old people, but his one-man party is creeping up the polls and is set to win 13 seats according to a recent poll.

Opposition collapse

The strength of these smaller parties reflects the collapse of the traditional opposition party, the Nationals.

Their leader, Bill English, has even taken part in a charity boxing match to raise his profile.


The National Party is having an enormous amount of trouble deciding where it should stand and how it should get there

Al Morrison
Radio New Zealand
But he has yet to land a significant blow in this campaign, and the Nationals are looking at a humiliating defeat.

The goal for Helen Clark, of course, is to win enough votes and seats to give her party an overall majority.

Al Morrison, political editor of Radio New Zealand, believes that outcome is on the cards.

"After three terms of office in the 90s, the Nationals were defeated on the basis of what the electorate saw as the failure of the free-market philosophy," he said.

"What Helen Clark has been able to do is take the bits of the free market that people liked, ditch the bits they didn't like.

"And the National Party is having an enormous amount of trouble deciding where it should stand and how it should get there."

But Labour may not have it their way if New Zealand's voters feel they are not yet ready to give one party the power to rule by itself.

Helen Clark may yet find she has to do a deal, however uncomfortable that may be.

See also:

11 Jun 02 | Asia-Pacific
04 Jun 02 | Asia-Pacific
08 May 02 | Asia-Pacific
16 Jul 02 | Asia-Pacific
27 Mar 02 | Country profiles
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