Third-Party Candidates Gain in New Zealand Disgruntled Voters Turn to New Faces after Economic Woes, Cutbacks

Article excerpt

TWENTY months ago, the people of Mt. Roskill, New Zealand sent an angry rebuke to their usual favorite, the then-ruling Labor Party, and voted for the conservative National Party.

If an election were held today, many of those same voters say they would dump the National Party and vote for a third party.

"The people have been pummeled," says Robert King, an unemployed marine plumber and 30-year resident of this working-class suburb of Auckland.

Voters are furious with both parties because of tough economic policies which have deregulated industries, removed protective tariffs, and undermined labor unions. At the same time, both parties cut back social programs such as free health care and education, replacing them with "user pays" fees. The result has been a dramatically reduced workforce and a 10.5 percent national unemployment rate.

Bitter feelings are widespread.

"It's reflected in all polls regionally or nationally, whatever the timing," says Stephen Levine, a political scientist at Victoria University in Wellington. "There is a dislike of the government and the prime minister personally."

In an independent poll, conducted May 29, 66 percent of respondents did not think Prime Minister Jim Bolger was doing his job properly; only 27 percent were satisfied with his performance. Mr. Bolger has done much worse in other polls, receiving as low as 5 percent, which when compared to the margin of error has implied that perhaps no one approved of his performance.

Voter disillusionment has helped the Alliance, a group of political outcasts made up of Greens, Liberals, Maori natives, and Democrats. Led by Jim Anderton, leader of the New Labor Party and the only Alliance member of parliament, the group has received as much as 17 percent support in opinion polls.

The Alliance has put together a platform that includes a return to New Zealand's 1960s style of socialism: free education and medical service, a "social wage" package, and increased spending on housing. …