And so the po­lit­i­cal race be­gins . . .

Kapi-Mana News - - ELEC­TION 2011 -

In many re­spects, this elec­tion looks like a re­play of 2002 – with a pop­u­lar Prime Min­is­ter and an Op­po­si­tion leader (Bill English then, Phil Goff now) fail­ing dis­mally to rekin­dle sup­port for a party turfed out af­ter nine years in of­fice.

In 2002, Peter Dunne was the al­ter­na­tive choice for des­per­ate con­ser­va­tive vot­ers.

This time around, cen­tre-left vot­ers de­spair­ing of Labour will have the op­tion of Hone Harawira’s Mana Party or the Greens.

In all like­li­hood, the de­cline of the Maori Party will leave Na­tional re­liant on Act for its se­cond-term agenda of wel­fare re­form and a par­tial as­set sales pack­age, which may well in­clude TVNZ be­fore the next term is out.

The main con­trast with 2002 is the state of the econ­omy.

In 2002, an eco­nomic boom was about to hap­pen. This year, vot­ers are treat­ing Na­tional as the safest pair of hands in a very un­cer­tain global cli­mate.

Rather than blame the Gov­ern­ment for the ex­ist­ing high rates of youth un­em­ploy­ment and other so­cial ills, the elec­torate is feel­ing un­easy about change. Where does that leave Labour? Nowhere. At best, the combo of a cap­i­tal gains tax (in­stead of as­set sales) and re­mov­ing GST from fruit and veg­eta­bles looks merely like dam­age lim­i­ta­tion, rather than the mir­a­cle needed to de­liver an elec­tion vic­tory.

On the cam­paign trail, the Op­po­si­tion mes­sage will be one of fair­ness. If wages are taxed, so should the wealth earned by cap­i­tal gains, and ar­guably, such an ap­proach would be prefer­able to sell­ing stakes in state en­ergy com­pa­nies.

Labour and the Greens may win that bat­tle, with­out ever se­ri­ously threat­en­ing to win the war. Rea­son be­ing: most vot­ers do not dis­like or re­sent John Key’s Gov­ern­ment, not to an ex­tent where there is any dis­cernible mood for change.

At best, Labour will be hop­ing for a re­spectable show­ing in Novem­ber – rather than a rout – thus en­abling Phil Goff to re­tain his job for a while af­ter­wards, at least.

Of course, if and when the Labour/Na­tional gap nar­rows as the elec­tion ap­proaches, it could be the­o­ret­i­cally pos­si­ble for Labour to cob­ble to­gether a rul­ing coali­tion with the Greens, Mana and a di­min­ished Maori Party.

In re­al­ity, even the prospect of such a Franken­stein Gov­ern­ment would dam­age MMP’s chances of sur­vival in this year’s ref­er­en­dum on the vot­ing sys­tem.

Since 2008 was the high­wa­ter mark in the elec­toral cy­cle for Na­tional, some lo­cal elec­torate races are eas­ier to call this time around.

Welling­ton Cen­tral looks safe for Grant Robert­son, who had a 1904 ma­jor­ity even be­fore the state sec­tor job cuts kicked in. Many of the 5000 per­sonal votes for (the re­tir­ing) Sue Ked­g­ley of the Greens should also flow Robert­son’s way.

Even a slight swing against Na­tional will make Trevor Mal­lard (Hutt South), An­nette King in fortress Ron­go­tai and even a weak can­di­date like Kris Faafoi in Mana more com­fort­able.

In Rimu­taka, Labour’s Chris Hip­kins faces a strong chal­lenge from Up­per Hutt-based fi­nance ex­ec­u­tive and first-time Na­tional can­di­date, Jonathan Fletcher.

The exit of Dar­ren Hughes makes Nathan Guy’s re­ten­tion of Otaki for Na­tional much eas­ier.

That leaves the bat­tle royal shap­ing up in Ohariu.

In a nor­mal three-way race, Labour’s Charles Chau­vel would come through the mid­dle, but since Na­tional is back­ing Dunne and the Greens are back­ing Chau­vel, Ohariu is far too close to call.

Prog­no­sis: a se­cond term for Na­tional, with Act as its main sup­port. On the MMP ref­er­en­dum the pub­lic could hedge its bets by re-elect­ing John Key, while keep­ing MMP as an overt sig­nal against an ex­trem­ist se­cond-term agenda.

Pop­u­lar: John Key is buoyant in the polls.

Strug­gling: Phil Goff has failed to rekin­dle any sup­port.

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