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Small parties to play huge role in deciding outcome

Opinion Piece

As the extremely difficult to predict 2017 election draws to its conclusion there is a growing feeling it is not really the drag race it has been described but will in fact be decided by the small parties.

It is no surprise that given a round of leaders debates and wildly swinging polls that the focus has been on National and Labour and their leaders, Bill English and Jacinda Ardern.

Certainly one of these two will lead the next government, the question is who they will be able to get as allies.

Barring a final shock from this unpredictable campaign, neither of the two big parties will get enough votes to govern on their own. MMP governments worldwide are almost always coalitions. That makes the latest Colmar Brunton poll, if it is correct, extremely significant.

It had Winston Peters and New Zealand First sitting around the five percent mark. Unless Winston can hold Northland it would have no MPs and the prospective kingmaker will have lost the right to decide the government.

The Greens on the other hand were showing at 8 percent, much less than before the Metiria Turei disaster that hurt them so much, but enough to be a highly credible partner for Labour.

A New Zealand Herald column by former Labour Cabinet minister Richard Prebble showed how crucial the small parties are.

If the Maori Party can hold a seat and get 60,000 list votes it will have four MPs, something National would welcome.

On the other hand if ACT retains Epsom, 30,000 list votes would give it two MPs.

While MMP has been the making of the small parties and helps to make Parliament more diverse, it does have a structural flaw in that the seats a party wins are deducted from its list entitlement. That could produce an anomaly with The Opportunities Party having more list votes than ACT or Maori but not getting a single seat.

As well as looking at their own results, English and Ardern will be looking nervously over their shoulders at the fate of the small parties tomorrow night.