CHRISTCHURCH, NEW ZEALAND
THE day after the most stunning electoral outcome in New Zealand's history, Kiwis (as New Zealanders call themselves) are trying to figure out who really has the right to run their country.
Neither major candidate won a clear mandate in the Nov. 6 general election. Voters narrowly reelected Prime Minister Jim Bolger. But a major swing against his ruling National Party tossed cold water on the victory, as did the win of two seats each by two minor parties. Parliament reconvenes with 49 seats for Mr. Bolger, 50 against.
But neither can opposition Labour leader Mike Moore claim a moral victory. He won 46 seats, and his percentage of the vote is the same as in 1991 when National took power in a historic rejection of Labour. The true winners are the two small parties, Alliance and NZ First, who hold unprecedented power in Parliament. Alliance, a coalition of five left-wing parties picked up 18 percent of the vote. National Party spinoff, NZ First, got 10 percent. Bolger and Moore each received about 35 percent.
New Zealand has for now a hung Parliament, wherein both major parties are so evenly balanced that budgets and legislation could be stymied. But Absentee ballots, numbering 200,000, that will be counted next week may shift the balance.
The outcome was so unclear that both Bolger and Mr. Moore gave quasi-victory speeches.
New Zealanders' displeasure extends beyond the two major candidates to the system by which they were elected.
They voted to change their Constitution to a proportional voting system. In the referendum, the Mixed-Member-Proportional election system (MMP) won 54-46 percent over the current First-Past-The-Post system (FPP), in which the candidate with the most seats wins. MMP gives smaller parties representation proportionate to their share of the votes. It will take about two years for the mechanics of MMP to be put into effect.
For the first time, New Zealand voters will be guaranteed that the make-up of Parliament will reflect the party preference of the public. The number of women MPs increased from 16 to 21, making Parliament 20 percent women. More Maoris won seats, and the first Pacific Islander was elected.
Some analysts say that MMP's win makes the current government, elected under FPP, illegitimate and Bolger a lame duck.
What happens next is unclear. The parties will spend the next few days looking at the constitutional options. Bolger could call another election. Or he could be left fighting for political survival if the other three parties joined and forced a vote of no confidence. But the Alliance's Jim Anderton said that he would not be part of a coalition with Labour to ``hijack'' the government.