Sensible shift of election to 17 October

Jacinda Ardern has just announced that the election date will be moved 4 weeks to 17 October. This is a sensible decision. Ardern said she discussed it with all other party leaders before making the decision.

Obviously Covid could continue to be a problem for several weeks, but there is a fall back plan with the election reasonably easily moved further to November.

The election shouldn’t be deferred indefinitely, they have to plan for an election and addresses Covid issues should the arise.

Ardern could make the decision on her own but has stressed a non-partisan consensus was preferred and she gave ‘equal weight’ to the opinions of the other party leaders.

She said she advised one party, NZ First, of her decision as they are Labour’s coalition partner.

Ardern’s speech announcing her decision was carefully and competently crafted and well delivered. She is good at fronting this sort of thing.

Significant issues are the employment of electoral staff, and candidates who have taken leave to conduct their campaigns.

Election date – what’s best for the people?

National and David Seymour had already suggested the election should be delayed due to the Covid level 3 lockdown in Auckland.

Then yesterday Winston Peters went public with a letter he has sent to the Prime Minister asking for a delay in the election:

Newsroom: Peters calls for election delay over Covid-19 outbreak

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters has joined calls for a delay to the September 19 election following the country’s new Covid-19 outbreak, claiming there is “no ability to conduct a free and fair election” in the current environment.

However, Peters has shied away from disclosing whether his party would back a vote of no confidence against the Government, should Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern forge ahead with the original date.

Ardern is set to reveal her own views on the election date and dissolution of Parliament at a press conference on Monday morning. However, her coalition partner and Deputy Prime Minister chose to pre-empt the announcement on Sunday afternoon, in what appears an attempt to force Ardern’s – or even the Governor-General’s – hand. 

Justifying an election delay, Peters said there would be only six days for parties to campaign if Auckland moved out of Level 3 and the rest of the country out of Level 2 on August 26, with overseas voting beginning on September 2 and advance voting five days later.

“There is now no ability to conduct a free and fair election if the Prime Minister decides to hold the General Election on September 19,” Peters said.

He also cited concerns about the preparedness of the Electoral Commission and NZ Post to deal with “an unprecedented deluge of special votes” in a timely fashion, noting the significant increase in voting ahead of Election Day in recent years. 

“Voters are sovereign and when and what day they vote must be their choice, not the Government’s.

“Any proposed staggering of their vote in the election across several weeks is a weakening of and serious interference in our democracy,” Peters claimed.

Speaking to media, the New Zealand First leader repeatedly refused to state whether his party would join National and ACT in a vote of no confidence in the Government should Ardern decline to change the election date – an extreme option available to him should he choose it.

“I’m here to alert the people of this country, dare I say it my friends in the media, to the realities of what we’re facing right now, and I think people are entitled to know all the permutations and ramifications of political behaviour.”

Peters released a letter he sent to Ardern on August 14 to convey New Zealand First’s concerns, saying he had since spoken to her about the issue.

“New Zealand First believes we risk undermining the legitimacy of the election result, creating an awful precedent which could be abused by the Prime Minister’s successors.

 “People will be driven to the conclusion, in the absence of any empirical evidence to the contrary, that the election date choice is being forced from a minority position to achieve a certain outcome.”

Peters said the party was releasing its letter to Ardern “for the sake of transparency, and because we believe the Governor-General of New Zealand needs to know that the majority in the House of Representatives favours an election delay.”

While I don’t really care about what politicians and parties might prefer, especially those who are doing poorly in polls like NZ First and National.

What is important is what is best for the people in a democracy. And wit a lockdown in Auckland running through the key part of the election campaign is a problem.

Also important is what the priorities of the Government parties are, particularly Labour. They have a lot to do right now dealing with the Covid outbreak in Auckland and shouldn’t be distracted by an election campaign.

So I think a delay in the election looks inevitable. Jacinda Ardern will make an announcement on this this morning.

I do wonder whether Peters is just grandstanding a bit here again. If Ardern announces a delay he will perhaps claim to have influenced the decision, but being deputy Prime Minister he can talk to Ardern any time he likes about things.

But regardless of Peters posturing Ardern needs to make a decision based on what’s best for the Government, for our democracy, and especially for the people.

Of course a new delayed election date may also have problems if the current outbreak lasts for a few weeks, or if we have another outbreak. So be it, whatever happens in the future will just have to be dealt with.

One problem with a delayed election is we will effectively have a drawn out campaign, that’s probably not what most non-political people would prefer but most people are adept at ignoring most politics most of the time.

Ardern will make her announcement at 10 am this morning.

More from Newsroom: Parliament a possum in the headlights as Ardern mulls election date

Wellington lawyer Graeme Edgeler has ably outlined the possible ramifications on Twitter: should it become clear Parliament had indeed lost confidence in the Government, Reddy could refuse to dissolve Parliament as is currently scheduled to take place Monday.

The House could then sit for the Government to move a high-stakes motion of confidence: if that passed, Parliament would dissolve, but if it failed the Governor-General could allow a period to see if there was confidence in either Ardern or another MP to form a government.

If the parties could come to agreement, then Prime Minister Judith Collins (or, dare we say it, Prime Minister Peters) could command the majority of the House for just long enough to schedule a new election date. 

If that was not possible, then it would be for Reddy to use the reserve powers of the Governor-General and set an election date, possibly with the input of the Chief Electoral Officer.

It is worth noting that the process for resolving such a constitutional conundrum is contested, with no clear instruction manual.

University of Otago law professor Andrew Geddis believes it would take a majority of the House throwing its active support behind a new leader, rather than simply withdrawing its support in Ardern, for the Governor-General to reverse course on the dissolution of Parliament and election date.

With Peters publicly confirming Ardern still has the confidence of New Zealand First, Reddy could accept the Prime Minister’s request to dissolve Parliament on the grounds she enjoyed its confidence at the time the decision was made, even if that was to change afterwards.

Election date announced – 19 September

The prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced the date for the 2020 general election – 19 September. It will include two referendums, one on euthanasia, the other on legalising the use of cannabis.

PM announces election date as September 19

The 2020 General Election will be held on Saturday 19 September, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced today.

“I’ve always believed that announcing elections dates early is fair. It improves the opportunities for New Zealanders to take part in the democratic process and gives a greater degree of certainty to the political landscape.

The practice of an early announcement of election dates was started by John Key for the 2011 election and it has continued since then. The old practice of game playing with late date announcements was ridiculous.

Ms Ardern has advised the Governor-General of the election date.

The Government’s intention is that the House will rise on Thursday, 6 August 2020 and Parliament will be dissolved on Wednesday, 12 August 2020.

Writ day will follow on Sunday, 16 August 2020, and nominations will close at noon on Friday, 21 August 2020. Advance voting will start on Monday 7 September 2020.

Subject to the passage of the Electoral Amendment Bill currently before the House, the last day for the return of the writ will be Thursday, 15 October 2020.

As well as being early the announced date was no surprise.

“When it comes to the campaign, I’ve set out Labour’s plan to give New Zealanders an election contest that is positive, factual and robust.

She didn’t indicate when the positive, factual and robust campaign period would begin. It may take a while to get the positive message through to all the Labour MPs and troops.