The legitimacy of the Labour-led government

POLITICAL ROUNDUP

Dr Bryce Edwards

Jacinda Ardern is the prime minister-elect, although her party won't be the largest in Parliament (photo: Jerry Yelich-O'Connor)

Many New Zealanders are disgruntled that the new government does not include the largest party in Parliament – National, which won 44.4% of the vote. Some are even questioning the legitimacy of the Labour-led government. 

It’s worth checking out a basic but ingenious explanation of MMP coalition government from the following Facebook post from Eva Allan: “Allow me to explain MMP: There's one mince and cheese pie left in the shop it costs $5. Bill has $4.50. Jacinda has $3.70. Winston has 70c. James has 60c and David has 5c. No one has enough money to buy the pie by themselves but Jacinda, Winston and James put their money together and buy the pie. Bill gets no pie because he needed 50c but didn't have any friends to help him pay for the pie. I hope this helps explain things.”

Legitimacy challenged
This Facebook post has been a hit, and the reason it has resonated so strongly is there are still plenty of loud challenges being made to the legitimacy of the new government. The fact that the three parties that came second, third, and fourth in the election have been able to combine to get a majority in Parliament is, of course, a new phenomenon. New Zealand hasn’t seen this under MMP yet, although it was always going to eventually. 

In fact, having the biggest party get 44% of the vote and not be in government is incredibly rare, even in other countries with proportional representation. Jane Clifton has been searching around and found that “the only other time it has happened was in Sweden in the 1970s” – see her latest column, Minority Rules: Who will be the first voted off Coalition Island

For the most colourful and interesting challenge to the legitimacy of the new government, see Richard Prebble’s column, Jacinda Ardern will regret this coalition of losers. Prebble makes the astonishing allegation: “There has been a coup. The political scientists can tell us it's legal but the fact remains – it is undemocratic. For the first time in our history who governs us is not the result of an election but the decision of one man. Jacinda Ardern is prime minister in name only. The only real power that the prime minister has is to allocate portfolios.”

Mr Prebble goes further with the hyperbole, saying that “New Zealand is now a shogunate. In Japan, the emperor had the title and the shogun had all the power.” 

This column has received an exasperated reply from Chris Trotter, who says “there is not a word of truth in any of this”, and he suggests Mr  Prebble knows this and is simply trying to lay the ground for a counter-coup in which the new government is brought down – see: Dark transactions: Winston Peters decision to “Go Left” has already set his enemies in motion

Mr Prebble’s eccentric arguments aren’t entirely marginal – in fact they’re broadly in line with a media that has given considerable weight to the idea that National has a “moral authority” or mandate to govern due to enjoying greater popularity than Labour. 

This is actually best conveyed on the front page of The Australian newspaper, which had a large headline declaring “NZ Shock: Losers take power.” You can see this front page and others in my blog post: Newspaper frontpages on the New Zealand election and new government.

Although the Australian newspaper might simply be ignorant of the local constitutional reality in New Zealand, much of the New Zealand media also pushed a similar line about National’s position.

Newspaper front pages in this country were very one-sided after the election, suggesting National had “won” and that it was almost a formality that New Zealand First would put National back into office.

In fact, the Sunday Star-Times editorial after the election said: “Let us be clear: Mr Peters has no choice. The voting public cannot, and will not, tolerate him abusing his kingmaker position by swinging his support behind Ms Ardern, when she is trailing 13 seats behind National. Some will be happy with this outcome; some disappointed. But the result is clear and unequivocal. A record 2.5 million New Zealanders voted. An unprecedented 1.2 million voted for National” – see Jonathan Milne’s Voters cannot, and will not, tolerate Winston abusing his kingmaker position

Arguments against the 'moral authority' line

As Eva Allan’s Facebook post conveys, the simple answer to those who dispute the legitimacy of the new government is to point out that the National Party doesn’t have the necessary majority of seats in Parliament whereas the combined three parties of government do. Bryan Gould points out “The only thing that matters – as it always does under any voting system in a Westminster-style parliament – is that it must be able to win crucial votes in Parliament – that is, it must have a parliamentary majority.  How that majority is made up, and whether or not it includes the largest party, is completely irrelevant.  A coalition of (let us say) the five smallest parties in parliament would be perfectly legitimate, as long as it commanded a majority” – see: How MMP is meant to work

Similarly, MMP campaigner Hans Grueber says, “It does not matter if the majority is reached by one, two, three or any number of parties as long as they together represent the majority of the voters. That is why a proportional system is regarded as the most democratic. Majority rules. There is nothing undemocratic about the fact that the voters have decided not to give one party an absolute majority but spread their votes among four parties in the clear expectation that these parties would have to compromise and work together to form a coalition to reach a majority in Parliament” – see: Nothing says the largest party has moral right to govern

However, the best refutation of the “moral authority” argument has been made in a stream of tweets by Michael Appleton‏ (@michelappleton). Not only does he make logical arguments about the legitimacy of the new government but Mr Appleton also calculates how much popular support this government has compared to previous ones. He finds that the Ardern administration “represents a higher proportion of Kiwi voters” than two-thirds of governments since 1936. For ease of reading, I have compiled all of his tweets in one blog post: Has the new NZ government been installed by an undemocratic coup? A Twitter reply

So why has the media given so much weight to the idea that the party with the most seats should govern? Public law expert Edward Willis has blogged on “Why the media got it wrong” (as well as why they are wrong) – see: Why being the largest party matters (and why it doesn't).

Willis has two possible answers – one is that the media deemed accuracy less important than the need for copy and controversy, and the second is “the issue is a subtle one, and the news media isn't adept at drawing distinctions between political and constitutional questions.”

Finally, for a further dose of the “moral authority” argument – including from National's Northland MP Matt King – see Laura Macdonald’s MMP attacked online after coalition formed.


35 · Got a question about this story? Leave it in Comments & Questions below.

This article is tagged with the following keywords. Find out more about MyNBR Tags

Post Comment

35 Comments & Questions

Commenter icon key: Subscriber Verified

....yet, the collective IQ Comrade Arden and Winston "wabble-a-lot" Peters is no where near sufficient enough to realise that the pie is cold, heats further money to pay for the fuel to cook it and not to serve it would cold ice-cream. So they go out borrow everyone else's money and tax the poor for the privelage of being fed Labour's cold and nasty Mince n Socialism pie.

Reply
Share
  • 4
  • 3

Lest we forget, National - instead of addressing the housing crisis and working to encourage productive investment in NZ:

1. Increased Working for Families ("communism by stealth", as they called it) to subsidies companies and enable lower wages.

2. Increased the Accommodation Supplement to subsidise both companies (as above) and property investors (raising the rent floor, as they knew).

3. Increased the First Home Buyers grant, to subsidise the property market.

Redistributive socialism for mates. It's farcical to pretend National is not basically as socialist as Labour.

Reply
Share
  • 0
  • 0

Good column, Bryce. It certainly does highlight the absurdity of these sour reactions, as well as the sheer incompetence of many in the mainstream media, parroting these "moral authority", "majority" etc. arguments. The government represents 50.4% of voters, more than the minority ~49% represented in 2014.

It suggests a fundamental lack of understanding of politics from many.

National are out because they made basic mistakes: trying to win it on an FPP go-it-alone basis, their lack of friends...and in the end, their lack of policy alignment with others.

Reply
Share
  • 1
  • 2

If only National had done enough of the right things to appeal to the electorate to get 61+ seats all to themselves on merit. Oh well.

Reply
Share
  • 1
  • 0

Why is the NBR publishing this guy? Quite possibly the most biased political commentator in NZ

Reply
Share
  • 1
  • 1

So what's wrong with what he says other than the fact you disagree with it?

Reply
Share
  • 0
  • 0

In reality National on 44.4 pipped Labour/ Greens on 44.1 in the raw vote. The Labour- Greens combination were effectively a joint faction after Labour disposed of much of its old right centre with the departure of Cunliffe, King, Shearer. Cullen and Moloney and the Greens became a subidiary of Labour with the Turei speech, partly supported in public by Shaw, leading to the resignation of its two most conservative MPs Celland and Graham. For Labour- Greens to take office was no more unconventional than Muldoons minority government of 1978-1981 when he had marginally lost the popular vote. It was possibly far more outrageous for Jim Bolger to form a government with only 35 % of the vote in 1993 and 34 % in 1996 it was this prospect that MMP was implemented to try and prevent as the electorate clearly intended the policy programme of Ruth Richardson and Luxon/ Birch to be rejected with 18 percent support for the Alliance of Clarks friend Anderton in 1993 and for NZF in 1996.

Reply
Share
  • 0
  • 0

Thanks for a reheat of the pie story.
First it wasn't a "pie shop":)
Secondly, it may be law but it is daft that someone with $4.50 and someone with 50 cents get to have a half a pie each.
It is definitely a legal coalition, but let us put aside for a moment all the "Left/Right" "it is MMP" "it is legal" hooha and consider that maybe what the media and some poli's are forgetting is human nature and the average NZers sense of fairness.
The polls in the near future will be interesting.

Reply
Share
  • 2
  • 0

Quite a different (and reasonable) tone from you John except for the one thing that is still wrong. $4.50 and $0.50 together means they get the $5 needed for the pie and they do share it - BUT NOT EVENLY. It is not a 50/50 Labour / NZF Government. They do not share the same number of Ministers in Cabinet, And both anyway rely on the Greens for confidence in the House and share a lot of policies with the Greens. And if you look in the agreements, there are processes for dealing with new legislations and disagreements, none of which are controlled by NZF. It really is a very different MMP Government in structure and process than we have ever seen before.

Reply
Share
  • 0
  • 0

c'mon Mr Sam, I'm always reasonable.
I do believe, without too close of a scrutiny, that Mr No got much more than his share.
As an aside, I believe Ms Adern must take a little of the blame.
I would've thought that offering Mr English, as the leader of the party with most votes, first crack at forming a Gov.!!
Mr English too I give a little blame as well, I would've thought that as soon as MR No kicked off his dutch auction, it would've been in order and proper for Mr English to tell Mr No. " We are not having a bar of that, here is Nationals offer we will not play silly games take it or leave it Sir"
AHH Mr Sam, Am I'm being so unreasonable?

Reply
Share
  • 0
  • 0

You forget how much commonality there was in policy between the three parties anyway. Look at this and you would see NZF's and the Green's shares of concessions were about right. And while the approach you suggest English should have taken would have given you satisfaction in terms of dealing with NZF, i have no doubt it would have immediately ended negotiations.

Reply
Share
  • 0
  • 0

It wasn't proportional representation that was responsible for Donald Trump, the May administration minority government in the United Kingdom, or the Turnbull administration's precipitous slight majority in Australia's federal House of Representatives. If one questions the legitimacy of New Zealand's final current electoral outcome, then what about those results as well?

Reply
Share
  • 0
  • 0

What is for sure....this put together government will not last the distance.
That you can be sure of.
Who will crash it.
In my view the greens will start the ball rolling followed very quickly by nz First.
A new election will see both of them follow the Maori party.
We will then have a first past the post system by default.
Where will labour finish up....well quite possibly in the same place they were before Adern took over from Little.
Watch this space.

Reply
Share
  • 2
  • 0

In the context of this parliament the proposed "waka jumping" Bill if it limits individual MPs freedom of association is deeply unethical and a gross abuse of power.
It underlines the constitutional illegitimacy of this government.

Reply
Share
  • 0
  • 0

This is not a legitimate government, and Jacinda Ardern was not elected to be the Prime Minister of New Zealand. She was appointed to be the Prime Minister by Winston Peters. What is democratic or legitimate about that in the New Zealand context where, by convention, Prime Ministers are elected by the people or by the ruling party? Only the Left, and that includes Dr Edwards, are saying the current government is legitimate and that is only because it suits their political agenda to say so. If the shoe was on the other foot, and Winston had gone with National while Labour had received the most votes of any party we would not be able to hear ourselves think from the Left's screaming and shouts of outrage and demand for change! And we all know that to be true.

I don't care what the 'rules' of MMP say, the rules of MMP need to change so that we don't face this anti-democratic farce again in another 3 years time. If we are going to keep MMP, then the rules need to be changed so that the Party that achieves the largest percentage of the vote gets to form the government, even if it is a minority government. That, incidentally is what the Germans do, and it's what we should be doing here too.

Reply
Share
  • 1
  • 0

So under your proposal National forms a government. When they present their budget and the other parties vote against it what happens? They cannot govern.

You have to have 51% of the votes to get things passed. National was not able to fight that support.

Reply
Share
  • 0
  • 1

Don't be so dense. If Winston or the Greens knew they had no choice other than to enter into negotiations with National as the largest party to form a Government, do you think they would not have come to an agreement, either a coalition or confidence and supply one? And if they could not form a government then it would fall to the second largest party in Parliament to try. And failing that it would be back to the people for another election. Either way this would stop a minor party from playing larger parties off against each other in a simultaneous bidding war and exercising power far in excess of its electoral mandate. If it failed to arrive at an agreement then its negotiating position when it entered into talks with the second largest party would be greatly weakened, and it would know that. And forcing a second election, it is likely to be on the receiving end of a considerable amount of the people's displeasure.

Reply
Share
  • 0
  • 0

Read the original comment ...."the party the gets the largest vote gets to form the government " not gets first right to negotiate.

Under your scenario National may still not have secured the treasury benches and the likes of Steve would still be unhappy and calling for change

Reply
Share
  • 0
  • 0

Sorry, but it's not going to be possible for him to do what you suggest in your first sentence.

Reply
Share
  • 0
  • 0

I think you need to re-read the statement from Steve, which I responded to.

Steve wants the largest party to form the government - without support that is going to be undemocratic.

Reply
Share
  • 0
  • 0

You are absolutely correct. The minor parties would very unlikely force a fresh election.
Unless it was for a very very good reason, it would be at their peril.
But...... what happened, (our Gov. chosen by the party with 7% of the party vote) is legal.
Not necessarily right.

Reply
Share
  • 0
  • 0

It's pretty basic to see that people voted for parties who had a significant amount of policy alignment, and those parties formed a government together. NZ First even campaigned on "Had Enough?" and Colmar Brunton polling showed a significant majority of their voters preferring a coalition with Labour.

Sour grapes are sour grapes.

https://pbs.twimg.com/media/DMm9du8UQAA96vY.jpg

Reply
Share
  • 0
  • 0

Good try Bryce but the result remains a travesty of democracy

Reply
Share
  • 1
  • 0

MMP's a dog ... we've actually known this ever since Winston the pretender gamed the system in it's very first outing, and put the interests of NZ behind his own. In fact. MMP is only going to produce worse outcomes as the worst elements in politics figure out to position themselves for the maximum self-interest, at everyone else's expense.

Reply
Share
  • 1
  • 0

Yet again you are wrong Steve. There are a number of states in Germany where coalitions were not built around the largest party. Plus did you actually read the article above?

Regardless, if you continue to claim that this is neither a legitimate nor democratic Government, I challenge you and all those here of the same opinion to initiate and fund a High Court action against the Government's formation. However, I bet you and your mates don't take up this challenge - because you don't want to be proven wrong and you want to stop moaning and groaning like spoilt old men still throwing the toys out of your bank accounts. Ask Rodney Hide to see if he'll help you. Or even Nevil Gibson.

Reply
Share
  • 0
  • 1

Just because something is legally right, it does not make it morally right or just. Even someone as biased as you must be able to see that.
[Edited]

Reply
Share
  • 0
  • 0

??? The current coalition government represents the wishes of the majority of the electorate.
The National party failed to attract a majority of the electorate, and failed to negotiate a coalition partner.
By what ‘right’ should they have a seat on the treasury benches?
How is this difficult to understand?

Reply
Share
  • 0
  • 0

Going to be worth losing watching the (cough) Coalition thrashing around fighting and ripping itself to pieces.

Plus the 8 questions from the Nats each sitting day slicing and dicing the newbies floundering not knowing the answers and looking more and more incompetent.
Expect to see ear pieces worn by the new Ministers so the officials can prompt them with answers.

And when the newbie Green wimmin spit the dummy and throw the toys when nasty Uncle Winston wont play fair with them.

Cant wait!!!!

Reply
Share
  • 0
  • 0

I see Bill has continued form by lying outright yesterday. Bit sad to see National going full-on Tea Party, resorting to outright propaganda rather than having some integrity and honesty.

Reply
Share
  • 0
  • 1

This bitching and moaning about the election result is getting tedious faster than Donald Trump constantly complaining about NFL players taking a knee. Certainly didn't hear everyone complaining like this when National/ACT/Maori/United formed a government, so why suddenly is everyone up in arms? Just like sexism, racism or ageism, if you change up the wording of the sentence and the result changes in your mind, the problem may not be what you are talking about, but actually your own mindset...

Reply
Share
  • 1
  • 0

The "basic but ingenious explanation" contains a glaring fallacy. Bill and Jacinda aren't using their own money to buy the pie for themselves, they are using money provided by others to buy the pie on their behalf. Is the outcome what the majority of the donors wanted? Not sure, but I do know several donors who advanced money to Winston and now are horrified that he passed it onto Jacinda.

Reply
Share
  • 0
  • 0

As they say a fool and his money are easily parted. If you wanted National vote National it was that simple.

Reply
Share
  • 0
  • 0

For a second there I thought you were talking about our city councils. After all they do the same with our money.

Reply
Share
  • 0
  • 0

#NotmyPM

This has illustrated something important - While NZ'ers have the democratic ability to vote who we think should be in Parliament, we do not have the right to choose what party should be in government and thus the economic, social and regulatory agenda.

If NZ First was going to decide what way things would go what even was the point of voting I think to myself...

A vote for greens was always a vote for labor (46+8 = 54) which is still less than National and Act(56+1 = 57). I understand NZF(9) was going to go with the party that would promote it's interests but the public weren't party to negotiations or given any reasoning why he went one way and not the other, there was no transparency.

Is the result legitimate? Probably. But is it fair? Nah mate.

Maybe it could be like this:
Vote 1 - Party and Electorate Votes
Vote 2 - After results are counted the public can vote for how to have a majority in government

I wish Jacinda would go back to grazing, she didn't earn the Prime Minister ship.

Reply
Share
  • 0
  • 0

I agree some transperancy as to what was offered would make things easier to then consider if Peters did the right thing. One "leak" was that Peters went back to National and sort a 5th cabinet position, that implies to me that he was probably offered 4. If that is the case then we know that, that was not the deciding factor to go with Labour, we also would know that National was just as desperate.

The reality in my view is that NZF's policies were probably more aligned to Labour so they (NZF) probably had to concede less to get into bed with them than National.

Reply
Share
  • 1
  • 0

Post New comment or question

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

NZ Market Snapshot

Forex

Sym Price Change
USD 0.6832 0.0022 0.32%
AUD 0.9014 -0.0006 -0.07%
EUR 0.5819 0.0016 0.28%
GBP 0.5162 0.0020 0.39%
HKD 5.3367 0.0172 0.32%
JPY 76.8200 0.2020 0.26%

Commods

Commodity Price Change Time
Gold Index 1281.7 4.400 2017-11-21T00:
Oil Brent 62.3 0.340 2017-11-21T00:
Oil Nymex 56.8 0.410 2017-11-21T00:
Silver Index 17.0 0.120 2017-11-21T00:

Indices

Symbol Open High Last %
NASDAQ 6820.6 6862.7 6790.7 1.06%
DJI 23500.2 23617.8 23430.3 0.69%