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Twists in electoral path for NZ First

Editorial

The path back into government for New Zealand First later this year took another twist yesterday with news the Serious Fraud Office will investigate how donations to the NZ First Foundation were handled.

While leader Winston Peters assured the public last year that the party had “operated within electoral laws”, the Electoral Commission's view is that “donations were not properly transmitted to the party and not disclosed as required by the Electoral Act 1993”. Yesterday it referred the matter to police to determine if offences had been committed. Police quickly passed it to the SFO — which appeared even-handed, as they referred a National Party donations investigation to the fraud office last year.

Peters said he welcomed the investigation and that the party would review its donations regime.

He will also welcome Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's stance that she would leave the SFO to do its job, rather than get her deputy prime minister and Foreign Minister to stand aside for now.

In similar circumstances, Peters stood down as Foreign Minister in August 2008 under her predecessor Helen Clark. Three months later, at a general election, NZ First failed to reach the 5 percent threshold and Peters failed to regain his Tauranga seat against first-time candidate Simon Bridges (by an 11,742 vote margin, a much larger loss than in 2005 to Bob Clarkson).

It was Bridges who placed another major twist in the electoral path of NZ First last week, when he ruled out working with the party after this year's election.

While that worked for John Key in 2008, a better comparison as to the likely outcome of this gambit is the 2015 Northland byelection — as NZ Herald political commentator Audrey Young has pointed out — when centre-left voters stategically voted for Peters, to defeat National's candidate and give one extra seat to the Labour-led opposition.

This year the beneficiary of such calculations will be Shane Jones, who is up against first-term National MP Matt King and is now set to gain wide support from the centre-left — knowing that electing Jones cannot benefit National, and would ensure a return to Parliament of a potential coalition partner for Labour and the Green Party, if needed.

NZ First would not only no longer have to pass the 5 percent threshold — if this scenario looks likely, Young says the party will pick up votes from soft National Party supporters who don't believe National can win. That would be quite an own goal for Bridges.