Actually you can have an early election just because it is a lovely day in March


On today’s RNZ’s Morning Report, poured cold water over Wintson Peters’ confident assertion that NZ would have an election early in 2017 because the National Government was struggling to hold things together. Here’s how summarised Mr Key’s comments: 

“The reality is…to have an early election you can’t just say it’s a lovely day in March, let’s have an election,” Key told RNZ.

In order to hold a snap election the Government would have to lose a vote of no confidence or go to the Governor General and say it could no longer command a majority.

New Zealanders didn’t want an early election, he said. Kiwis liked a “strong, stable government” and a three-year cycle was short enough as it was.

Key said he expected to announce the date for next year’s elections early in 2017, like he did last time around.

In 2014, the Government announced the date in March.

I’ve two supportive comments to make on this, before issuing a gentle corrective to the PM.

The first supporting comment is that I think Mr Key is right to say that there’s no public appetite for an early trip to the polls. National’s polling may have slipped a little, but it’s only a little. Those polls also show solid majorities saying that the country is going in the right direction. The Government isn’t losing votes in the House on a regular basis, nor is it unable to progress its legislation through the House. So I don’t see any real reason why we’d be looking at an election before September-November of next year, as the ordinary triennial timetable would dictate.

I agree. The only times we have not been in the 4th quarter of the 3rd year are 2002 when Clark made up an excuse, 1984 and 1951.

Second, Mr Key is to be congratulated for his plan to tell us the precise 2017 election date early next year. As I wrote here, there is scope for a Prime Minister to play around with the announcement of an election date in order to try and obtain a political advantage. I think Helen Clark did so back in 2002, when she called the election early in an attempt to capitalise on Labour’s commanding opinion poll lead.

To his credit, Mr Key has made a habit of giving everyone a lead-in of several months. In 2011, the election date was announced some 9 months out. In 2014, six months notice was given. Everyone was on the same page as to when voting would take place, meaning all the parties were on a level playing field when it came to planning their campaigns. This is A Good Thing, which I think should be made a concrete part of our law.

My preference is a fixed four year term.

In terms of if Key can go early, Geddis quotes Geddis:

However, the core constitutional convention that the Governor-General must act on the advice of his or her principal advisor, the Prime Minister, means that choosing an election date really is the privilege of the Prime Minister.

So he notes:

In the end, Mr Key’s mistake probably doesn’t matter all that much. As he has no intention of advising the Governor General to hold an early election, the only way there will be one is if his Government loses the confidence of the House. But let it be noted that not holding an early election is his decision – and if he wanted to change it and hold an election at an earlier point in time (as, for instance, the NBR’s Rob Hosking advocates), there is nothing to stop him from doing so.  

So yes the PM could call an election early just because it is a sunny day in March, but he is saying he doesn’t believe that is a good reason to do so – he would only go early if unable to govern.

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