I got to wake up this morning to the news that New Zealand has elected a new Prime Minister, Jacinda Adern. I feel like this just washed over most of you, so here’s some backstory:
In New Zealand our government runs on an MMP system. To be honest, I’m not 100% on what that acronym stands for. Mixed Member Parliament? In any case, it’s proportional representation. People vote, they tally all the votes and give each party a number of seats in parliament depending on the percentage of the population that voted for them. They get one seat for every 5% of the total vote they earned. That’s super simplified, but my simplistic understanding could be why I think it’s a pretty decent system.
In any case, the two big parties (centre left to centre right) are Labour and National. I’m sure the difference isn’t as stark as the parties would have you believe, but Labour has a slightly more socially conscious bent, while National is more economically focused. Then there are all the smaller special interest parties who fill in the gaps and create coalitions to get the ruling parties over the magical 50% point. We haven’t had a Labour led government this decade, so it feels like a while. In part because Labour hasn’t had strong leadership in some time, but also because the last elected PM John Key (commonly nicknamed the smiling assassin, if you wanted a quick character reference) was oddly popular for some unfathomable reason. Can you hear my bias leaking through? Good. He was an old rich wanker/banker who frequently put his foot in his mouth. No, he wasn’t as bad as Trump, but that’s not a glowing review either.
This last election was straight up bonkers. First off, John Key (in an admittedly Cool Move) decided to retire before the end of his term to let the public get to know his choice for replacement party leader, Bill English. Made sense in the lead up to the election. English had run for PM before, but didn’t get elected. So he still hasn’t been elected PM, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Anyway, English was up against Labour’s Andrew Little in the main event. Little still wasn’t popular and was getting crushed in the polls. With something like three or four months until the election, Labour decided to jettison Little and put popular List MP Jacinda Adern in his place. It was a gamble for sure. Jacinda had been a career politician for all of her adult life, but at 37 that was maybe 15 years or so. She’d been doing a ton of good work, was young and passionate about social causes and well spoken. She didn’t have much leadership experience- which is I guess a desired qualification for the country’s top position- but in a dire time there was no better candidate. I hope this doesn’t sound like I’m ragging on her. For years I’ve thought she seemed competent, focused and that her heart was in the right place. Plus she knows how to DJ. You can bet your ass she’d run a fun political party. Maybe now the ‘M’ in MMP will stand for “Mixtape”.
Anyway, she ran a solid campaign, Labour bounced back as the country was hungry for a change. It’s not like she’s our first female PM (third. Only our second elected), but the top governmental seats had been pretty male dominated for a while. I’m sure at this point you’re all “yeah dickhead, we know she won. End of story.” Not so, assumptive reader! The votes came out to something like 37% Labour and 45% National. Greens formed a coalition with Labour (which was always on the cards), bringing the overall coalition to something like 43%. Then came Winston Peters. Peters is a character. He’s been around in Parliament forever. Maybe he’s part bed bug? Kind of reminds me of Saul from Better Call Saul. He was a former lawyer, maybe that’s it. He’s a constant agitator. I’m not sure how great he is in a position of influence, but he sure keeps everyone honest. Old people love him for some reason. Anyway, his party NZ First got about 7%. None of the unmentioned parties got enough votes to gain a seat, so ol’ Winnie was thrust into the position of kingmaker. Would you want Saul Goodman in the position if parliamentary kingmaker? How do you think that’d go? Meetings. Deals struck behind closed doors. After several weeks without a new government, New Zealanders begun channeling that emotional energy into somewhere it could do some good: NZ Forest and Bird’s annual Bird of the Year competition. Looks like Kea’s gonna scoop up a first time win this year. Good on it. Clever bird. Destroys cars with its beak, for real.
Anyway, after much deliberation on Winnie’s behalf, we have a brand new Labour led government. It might be idealistic to hope for real change, but sometimes I can be pretty damn idealistic. Congrats to Jacinda and fingers crossed she can live up to our massive expectations.
As for the other looming election, voting closes on October the 23rd. I’d say the Bird of the Year competition will be less controversial, but you never know…