1996: National, New Zealand First form coalition government

Winston Peters played the piper to perfection for eight long weeks and more. As his MMP tune drew to its long-awaited climax, the former cabinet minister who had bitterly rejected National and formed his own party proved again last night the political saw, "anything is possible in politics".

By convincing his own Maori-dominated caucus to support National in the new National-New Zealand First coalition Government of New Zealand, and by winning for himself the powerful position of Treasurer as well as that of deputy prime minister, he proved himself a master of pragmatic politics.

While Mr Peters, so far, is the personal winner in the drawn-out formation of this coalition Government, the best possible result has also been achieved for New Zealand as a whole.

Continuation of the former National government's economic policies, but with substantial softening; only a slight easing of inflation targets; deferral of the tax cuts for a year; abolition of the superannuation surtax; a referendum on compulsory superannuation; retention of the important Employment Contracts Act; and increases in health, social and education spending are policies that best reflect the will of voters as expressed at the polls on October 12.

Financial markets will greet the outcome with relief. So too, we are sure, will the majority of New Zealand citizens.

In the best of MMP traditions, we are led to believe, politicians' personal agendas were set aside during the talks in the interests of consensus politics.

We sincerely hope this is the case. Much has been made of the personal animosity between Messrs Bolger and Peters in the past, yet they now appear willing and able to bury past differences and combine forces. If they can achieve the bonding this promises MMP will have delivered much to the New Zealand political system.

It does seem strange that New Zealand First, on the one hand, can campaign strongly on the basis that voting for Mr Peters and party is the only way to remove the "hated" National Government, then on the other, short weeks later, can claim such a close and harmonious affinity with it; but such is politics, it seems.

A great many New Zealanders will sympathise with Labour and its leader Helen Clark.

Right until the last minute, it seemed, it could have been their tune the Peters' pipes were playing. Ms Clark, who brought together a fragmented party and took it to the brink of success, and who would have made an excellent prime minister, may now face an uncertain future.

While yesterday was undoubtedly Mr Peters' day of glory, the role of making important announcements of coalition details today and in the future should revert to Mr Bolger, as Prime Minister and coalition leader.

How Mr Peters reacts - and how Mr Bolger reacts - to being deputy to the other could determine the outcome of the New Deal now stitched between National and New Zealand First.

Both men, both parties, walk a narrow and volatile path as New Zealand ventures for the first time into an MMP future.

We wish them well.

 

 

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