Election date and governing through the campaign

Questions have been raised about whether the election can go ahead next month – probably not if under level 3 lockdown – and how much public governing the Prime Minister should be doing through the campaign – Jacinda Ardern insists her priority is dealing with Covid and the safety of the people.

Jane Patterson (RNZ) – Election date debate: Collins willing to risk antagonising voters

There’s now serious pressure to push out the election date, starting with slowing the next steps taken to end the parliamentary term and trigger an election. It’s in the hands of the prime minister for now but other parties say it wouldn’t be a fair race.

According to Ardern the latest it could be held is 21 November.

The date would have to allow enough time to release the final election and referendums results, and for the formation of a new government, before Christmas.

The main consideration will be: “Is it safe to vote?”

The Electoral Commission has been planning for an election in a pandemic but under current guidelines would only go ahead under alert level 2; an election could not go ahead under the level 3 restrictions in place in Auckland.

That is based on people being able to safely access polling booths with sanitising and social distancing – if they cannot it is up to ministers and political leaders to decide what would happen from there, with an obligation to put the interests of New Zealanders ahead of any political considerations.

This close to a general election the governing parties have a responsibility to work constructively with others when it comes to any major decisions – especially in a crisis – and to make sure the race is as even as possible.

National is calling for the 19 September election to be delayed, with Collins accusing Ardern of not consulting as fully as she should, and withholding key information about this week’s decisions.

Decisions will have have to be made soon, with a set timetable that has to be followed in the weeks leading up the election.

National says it is a health crisis and should be handled by the director general of health, not a politician.

Campaigning has been suspended while all parties watch the developments in Auckland carefully – what happens there will determine not only how politicians take their message to the electorate but potentially the election date itself.

National is fighting to keep itself in the story, by taking on Ardern over her treatment of the main opposition party.

But Ardern insists her right and responsibility to front the Covid crisis.

Stuff: Jacinda Ardern keeps options open as Judith Collins attacks

On Wednesday, Ardern announced the Government would be delaying the dissolution of Parliament until Monday, in order to give itself the flexibility to delay the election or bring the House back into full session.

She did not commit to any delay of the September 19 election date, however, saying more information about the cases was needed.

Collins rejected this later in the day and called for a delay of the election until at least November, saying a locked-down campaign would be impossible and any kind of mass postal voting would not be legitimate democracy.

“It is simply unsustainable to expect there to be a fair and just election at a time when opposition parties and other parties of Government are not free to campaign, but also when people have no certainty about whether they would be able to cast their vote on election day,” Collins said.

Ardern said she was focused on the immediate response, but decisions around election timing would be made before Parliament was set to dissolve on Monday.

Collins also criticised the Government for making the lockdown decision after advising her, instead of consulting her and the Opposition directly.

She said there was a convention in New Zealand that the Opposition be consulted on major decisions this close to the election.

“It is always part of our pre-election convention that a Government does not make major decisions without consultation with the Opposition. Clearly advising the leader of the opposition just before making a public announcement does not count as consultation,” Collins said.

Ardern disagreed with this assessment, saying the “caretaker convention” only applied following an election, before a new Government had been called.

Victoria University Associate Professor of Public Law Dr Dean Knight said the Cabinet manual showed no “caretaker” period applied in New Zealand and the Government was free to make major decisions.

“The Government has full power to take decisions prior to the election and is under no legal or customary obligation to consult the Opposition about major decisions such as Covid-19 alert levels,” Knight said.

Stephen Franks (@franks_lawyer) on this:

Our conventions for the period without a Parliament evolved over generations as bi-partisan commitment to democratic bottom lines. Incumbent rulers in corrupt countries use state resources and power to stifle and overwhelm challengers’ communication with voters.

In NZ election period Govt advertising with taxpayer purse is strictly limited. Conventions confine Ministers, most strict before a handover after the election. But honourable self-restraint is also expected pre-election after Parliament can’t scrutinise for abuses of power.

In NZ incumbent power is restrained to protect values that need bi-partisan loyalty past an electoral cycle, e.g. consulting the opposition on senior enduring appointments. An honourable government recognises the purpose of the principles and applies them to new circumstances.

We have unprecedented issues. The PM is inserting herself daily into announcements that could easily be made by trusted non-politician leaders, like Dr Bloomfield. Meanwhile inflicting on democratic rivals losses of freedoms to meet, and to associate for political discussion.

I wish I could believe her media omni-presence is just to ensure we all get the right info from someone we are most likely to trust, so there is maximum voluntary compliance/cooperation. But now 40% of the population will be tempted to mistrust and oppose or even frustrate.

Worthy public purposes were served by her daily lessons during the first lockdown. I eventually tired of being addressed as an infant, but clearly many more were reassured. Now, however the electioneering purpose looks too blatant.

That might be less counterproductive if she’d scrupulously reassured us by balancing her political spotlight with conspicuous respect for electoral integrity. If she wants full emergency media now she could inject balance by returning the election to its traditional November.

It is unprincipled to insist on her chosen early election while gagging political challengers with lockdown. Abusing the emergency’s saturation attention may suck media oxygen from critics/rivals. But will it look so smart if it prompts resentment/disobedience and failure?

Deferring the dissolution for as long as possible to leave some chance of a period of normal election challenge and freedom, would be a gesture to minimise the numbers who will see and hear only cynical manipulation in her Covid statements from here on. Trust matters.

David Farrar promotes the Collins approach in Collins calls for election delay:

Judith Collins has called for the Prime Minister to use her powers to delay the election until November, or failing that for Parliament to meet and vote on delaying it until 2021.

Collins points out that early voting is due to start in two and a half weeks and opposition parties are unable to campaign or even have their campaign launches.

But it is “Now that the boot is on the other foot he supports delaying New Zealand’s election.”
Well, a few days ago delaying an election in the US by Trump was described by DPF’s headline as “Trump verges on fascism”, so by that standard, today DPF and Judith must also be verging on fascism.
And there was this by DPF, “If you can hold elections during a civil war and a world war, you can hold one now.” That didn’t age well.

“Now that the boot is on the other foot he supports delaying New Zealand’s election.”

Well, a few days ago delaying an election in the US by Trump was described by DPF’s headline as “Trump verges on fascism”, so by that standard, today DPF and Judith must also be verging on fascism.

And there was this by DPF, “If you can hold elections during a civil war and a world war, you can hold one now.” That didn’t age well.

The country is in an unprecedented and very awkward position over Covid and with the complication of the election.

Leave a comment

27 Comments

  1. John J Harrison

     /  13th August 2020

    Stephen Franks sums it up perfectly in his first paragraph.
    He is dead right — Ardern is dead wrong.
    Again !
    With reports of additional confirmed cases being confirmed at 1PM Ardern cannot drop from Level 3.
    If Ardern goes ahead with AKL under Level 3 or 4 then she joins the ranks of African dictators and their banana republic’s.
    An election held under these circumstances would create a constitutional crisis.

    Reply
    • Blazer

       /  13th August 2020

      Franks offers mere opinion.
      His political allegience is well known.

      Reply
      • Duker

         /  13th August 2020

        Wheres Franks ‘evolved conventions over generations ? Examples ? Other than Muldoon ignoring it …oh dear.

        I thought he was previously a ‘black letter law’ lawyer where the ‘meaning doesnt evolve’ when the words remain the same.
        Its not quite a law in this situation but a similar process

        Its the same as Farrar…. whoever pays the piper convention

        Reply
        • Duker

           /  13th August 2020

          There was another convention that National broke ( again) that the appointment of new Speaker by the PM and the Opposition leader is consulted. Doesnt mean its a veto.
          This didnt happen when David Carters name was announced before Feb 2013 by Key…( yes him again)

          Reply
  2. Reply
    • Alan Wilkinson

       /  13th August 2020

      All this pontificating about conventions is nonsense. Convention is only what the public will accept.

      The fact is that if the election goes ahead under lockdown it will be the first rigged election in NZ history.

      Reply
      • Duker

         /  13th August 2020

        Collins says the polls are wrong and National will win …….hahahahah

        Reply
        • Alan Wilkinson

           /  13th August 2020

          It will win in November but lose in September.

          Reply
          • Duker

             /  13th August 2020

            So its for partisan advantage to delay… not a new convention after all.
            Rigged is just you channeling Trump… anyway why is he losing the race when hes President and all that, surely he could do well like Ardern and even Morrison in Australia are doing.
            We all know the reason is they are rational people and act accordingly while Trump the other day on Fox and Hannity was ranting about Pulitzer Prize winners, and that was a real rant even on friendly Fox

            But Trump has even stranger obsession
            https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/the-story-of-donald-trumps-feud-with-his-one-true-nemesis-windmills/2019/08/15/f637980a-be9e-11e9-b873-63ace636af08_story.html

            Reply
            • Alan Wilkinson

               /  13th August 2020

              Of course. That’s why Labour wants September and National wants November. All the rest is just smoke.

              It is undeniable there cannot be a free and fair election under lockdown. But Lefties are denying it.

            • Fight4nz

               /  13th August 2020

              Or it is totally deniable. And the opinion of those who have enjoyed wall-to-wall coverage since their first change of leader isn’t worth the pixels it’s written in.

            • Duker

               /  13th August 2020

              Want September ?
              Thats the date chosen at beginning of year.

              Only ONE election after 1999 has been Nov – 2008, the 2011 Nov election was because of the Rugby World Cup final in Oct , which we won and Key treated as an election rally ( which we could do since he chose the date for his advanatge)
              Its always the PMs prerogative to have an election date to their advantage, certainly not rigged if it works out that way.

            • I wouldn’t use the word ‘rigged’, but a lockdown election is not a good idea, I think. The extra cost alone would be prohibitive.

              Roll on online voting.

  3. Duker

     /  13th August 2020

    More to the point
    “: If we can do our grocery shopping under lockdown, we can vote under lockdown too.

    As much as supermarkets and pharmacies, the general election is an essential service and it must continue. ”
    https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/opinion/122431968/coronavirus-voting-is-an-essential-service-too-nz-cant-be-afraid-to-go-to-the-polls-in-lockdown

    I prefer early voting , which is fairly sedate process, as for me the electioneering is a distraction.
    Once the party leaders election opening address was a good 20 min on TV1. This gave them, even then, a captive audience to talk directly to voters, but the parties changed it and its only 5min if that.
    We we see the local campaigning walkabouts etc , its a bit of a sham as the purpose is for photo ops on TV and local media not really meeting the locals all.
    Social media has changed all that, Collins is just playing games. If she and her party were leading in the polls they wouldnt want the election date changed ( she still has the spin that the polls are wrong and National will win, this game playing shows they dont believe it for a minute)

    Reply
    • Alan Wilkinson

       /  13th August 2020

      You cannot have a free and fair election under lockdown.

      Reply
      • Alan Wilkinson

         /  13th August 2020

        Lockdown is a police state pure and simple.

        Reply
        • Kimbo

           /  16th August 2020

          There were elements of a police state in force when we held an election in 1943. Incidentally it was delayed from 1941.

          But yes, I’d be very surprised if Ardern didn’t delay. Especially as the Leader of the Opposition has already said we should. While it is the GG with whom the PM must consult, it is poor form if one of the two major contestants is saying now is not the time to go to the ballot box, and yet we still do.

          Reply
          • Alan Wilkinson

             /  16th August 2020

            Winston has also come out for delay so Labour doesn’t have a majority for Sept election.

            Reply
          • Blazer

             /  16th August 2020

            ‘ it is poor form if one of the two major contestants is saying now is not the time to go to the ballot box, and yet we still do.’

            So you think the opposition should be tasked with setting the date elections are held.

            Reply
          • Kimbo

             /  16th August 2020

            No. But thus far this country has not even gone close to the cusp of democracy-undermining post-election complaints of “we woz robbed”, and I’d like to keep it that way. As Alan Wilkinson rightly observed further above in this thread, “convention is only what the people will accept”…including if the government that does eventually get elected isn’t to everyone’s choice or liking.

            Reply
        • Kimbo

           /  16th August 2020

          …and thinking about it a bit more, there were elements of a police state – certainly for striking/locked out (choose your descriptor according to your politics) wharvies and their families – in 1951 when National PM Sid Holland called a snap election. And won by a
          landslide, one of the few times under either FPP or MMP that one party won over 50% of the vote.

          https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/1951_New_Zealand_general_election

          And as Labour under Walter Nash at the time were famously “neither for the wharvies nor against them”, you could argue Holland didn’t have a justified reason in the circumstances to seek a renewed mandate.

          Is a tricky one when a government alleges it is being undermined by industrial unrest, and it, rather than trade unions, must run the country. British PM Ted Heath called a snap election in early 1974 on that basis and in the context of three-day working weeks…and lost narrowly, and again when they had a rerun later that year

          https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/February_1974_United_Kingdom_general_election

          https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/October_1974_United_Kingdom_general_election

          Reply
          • Alan Wilkinson

             /  16th August 2020

            Can’t see how strike breaking affected free and fair elections.

            Reply
            • Kimbo

               /  16th August 2020

              In the case of the UK in 1974 there were power restrictions, including during the evening that limited some of the media’s coverage. And three day working weeks affected the print media too, I think. Without a sufficiently-functioning Fourth Estate, you can’t have a valid election, or at the least there are problems that need careful consideration before proceeding.

              And legitimate strike-breaking or not (and IMHO Holland was justified in facing down the wharvies in 1951 as Jock Barnes was seeking to overthrow the Government, although the subsequent snap election was political opportunism)

              …some of the measures against the wharvies – including making it illegal to financially or materially support them or their families, or report their words – were the actions of a draconian police state. Even for the Red Scare-prone era of 1951.

      • As only Labour has had a campaign launch, which was given endless free publicity, they have a totally unfair advantage.

        I agree that some form of emergency restrictions must be put in place, but not to the extent that the economy is wrecked.

        Reply
        • Duker

           /  13th August 2020

          National can have a launch – before they sink- as long as its outside Auckland !
          they can have 100 people and all the free publicity they like

          Reply
          • 100 people wouldn’t make it worthwhile. Many of the 100 would be organisers and speakers, those putting out the seats, the press…

            Reply
    • I vote early, too, Duker. At the last election I happened to pass a voting place in the city, so went in and voted. No queues, no waiting, no nothing.

      Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s