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A second election? Who would decide on a return to the polls?

Nicholas Jones,
Publish Date
Tue, 10 Oct 2023, 3:17PM

A second election? Who would decide on a return to the polls?

Nicholas Jones,
Publish Date
Tue, 10 Oct 2023, 3:17PM


The National Party has warned that a second election could be necessary if forming a coalition or governing arrangement with NZ First and Act is required but not possible.

“We are concerned there would be an inability to strike a deal in the interests of the country,” National’s campaign chair Chris Bishop said earlier this week.

“We will pick up the phone if we have to and try to make it work. But there is a real possibility of the necessity of a second election.”

How likely is that?

University of Otago law professor Andrew Geddis believes the prospect of a second election is now even more remote.

The death of Act’s Neil Christensen just a week before the election has meant the electorate vote in Port Waikato will not count on election day (although the party vote will still count) – and instead a byelection will be held after the election.

That will mean there are 121 MPs in Parliament after the byelection, instead of the usual 120 MPs.

At 121 seats, a majority of 61 MPs is still needed – so getting that extra MP could help National and Act hit the number required without the need to call up Winston Peters.

“The Port Waikato byelection simply makes the prospect even more unlikely,” Geddis told the Herald. “Every opinion poll now needs to have an asterix next to it with a ‘+1 seat to National’ attached.”

Nonetheless, if a new government can’t be formed, when would a second election be called, and by whom?

There’s no official time limit. The Governor-General would trigger a new election only after the leaders of the major parties were clear that no government could be formed.

Until then, the previous Labour government would continue to run the country in a caretaker role.

How long such a scenario would last in New Zealand would be down to a mix of political culture (how long the public would tolerate the delay), and practical necessity (how long a caretaker government could run for, without having a full mandate to take action), Geddis said.

“Note that Belgium went for 16 months with a “caretaker” government in place ... it seems unlikely New Zealand would tolerate such a state of affairs, but nothing in law actually stops it happening.”

Professor Andrew Geddis. Photo / RNZ

Professor Andrew Geddis. Photo / RNZ

In a speech in February, Governor-General Dame Cindy Karo acknowledged the possibility of a second election.

“The incumbent Prime Minister, bound by the caretaker convention, would be expected to consult other parties and seek majority support for the calling of any new election.

“Members of Parliament are responsible for resolving matters so that the Governor-General is never required to consider dissolving Parliament and calling an election without ministerial advice.”

How quickly would a new election be held?

The timeframe would be tricky to work out, Geddis said, in part because the Electoral Commission will need to receive new applications from parties for public funding for TV/radio adverts, and then decide who gets what.

“At the 2002 snap election, Helen Clark announced on June 11 that election day would be July 27, a 46-day lead-up period. That then may then be the minimum possible period in a practical sense.”

In terms of the cost, more than $179 million had been allocated from 2022/23 to 2023/24 for the general election and electoral services, with a further $4m for election broadcasting funding.

It’s unclear if a second election held as quickly as possible would be cheaper, or more costly, Geddis said.

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