NZ First leader Winston Peters today said he wants the election held on November 21, Radio NZ reported. He says he believes the health system would be under the pump in September with the winter flu season and the country potentially still dealing with the impacts of Covid-19.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced the September election date before the Covid-19 pandemic began.
Peters said he had fought for the November date originally, because his party believed summer elections were better, but given the pressures of Covid-19 he will again raise delaying it by two months.
“Having a good look at it now and with the compounding problems of coronavirus and all the distractions and efforts going in elsewhere, perhaps the sound thing is to say November 21 is the right date and we should go ahead then,” he said.
As Point of Order sees it, the rationale for delaying the election is not as simple as Peters makes out. For its part Labour may be convinced it is vital to capture the surge of support Jacinda Ardern has won for her leadership through the Covid-19 crisis before it subsides.
That leadership has won broad acceptance, even admiration, at home and, not surprisingly, in many places abroad, where failures of leadership have condemned populations to a death toll far beyond what a modern society can tolerate.
NZ journalist Anna Fifield wrote in the Washington Post that NZ “had not just flattened the (Covid-19) curve: it squashed it”.
And Alastair Campbell, (former spokesman for UK Prime Minister Tony Blair), praising Jacinda Ardern’s resilience as an example for the world, used a quote from Kiwi film-maker Steven O’Meagher to underline that:
“If there was an election tomorrow I reckon she would win every seat”.
Campbell noted NZ (at the time of writing) had just over 1000 cases and one solitary death.
“By any standards that is remarkable, and my friend Steven is right…so is she”.
Rave notices like that in the NZ Herald for Ardern put a chill up strategists for other parties.
Radio NZ quoted National’s deputy leader and campaign chair Paula Bennett as saying the government and opposition needed to discuss in the weeks ahead whether September 19 was a realistic date.
“ I must say that even in the last couple of days I’ve just been wondering just how ready would the public be for a September 19 election and is it fair to them and fair to our whole democracy system to be asking them to go through that,” she said.
Bennett said she wanted serious time and thought given to any alternative voting methods.
“I do think there’s other ways of people actually voting but as I say I do think being engaged in an election and making sure they have the right information is something that has to be thought through really carefully.”
Peter Dunne, in his weekly survey of the political scene, had an insightful commentary on the problem for NZ First and the Greens.
“The way the government has approached the pandemic crisis has effectively side-lined them and left them largely irrelevant. Not only have their particular issues been pushed off the agenda, but also, and more importantly, the government has so far demonstrated, albeit perhaps inadvertently, that it does not need their inputs to manage effectively.
“To make matters worse for both, there is the potential that the Labour Party, through its handling to date of the crisis could be a major beneficiary in terms of public support.
“While there are still many hurdles for it to cross and much opportunity for missteps that could cost public support, it is not beyond the realms of possibility that if NZ by election time is looking to have come through Covid-19 reasonably well, Labour could reap a significant electoral dividend.
“However, that would most likely come from currently soft NZ First and Green support. Every poll since the last election has shown National’s support to have remained pretty solid, so the likelihood of a significant crossover vote to Labour even in these circumstances is small”.
Dunne, with his long experience as a leader of a small party in the MMP environment, comes up with an interesting conclusion:
“Here is the problem. Current electoral mathematics mean that the Labour Party needs to have both NZ First and the Greens pass the 5% threshold to be confident of remaining in government after the election. Failure of one or both of these parties to cross that threshold will greatly increase the prospects of a National-led government emerging.
“Polls since the end of last year had already been showing National ahead, and able to form a government with the support of ACT, putting more pressure on NZ First and the Greens.
“A surge in Labour support now at the expense of NZ First and the Greens could have the unwelcome effect of seeing both of them out of Parliament altogether and Labour paradoxically out of office”.
No wonder Peters thinks it a good idea if the election is put off until November—and why some Labour strategists may be dithering, too.