A bitter aftertaste, election will divide NZ

By Rowan Sylva

It is an interesting week for the politically minded – the Swedish election, the Scottish referendum and the New Zealand election. And the results from the first of these are out; what they highlight are a divided and politically polarised electorate. The Swedish left coalition won the election, but the far right anti-immigration party held the balance of power. With all other parties refusing to work with the neo-fascist party, the new Swedish government is a minority one that will struggle to pass any legislation. The surge in support for the neo-fascists show an increasing divide between a racist right and a progressive left, a divide that has effectively frozen Sweden’s democracy.

Several commentators on the Scottish referendum have pointed out that, with polling neck and neck between “yes” and “no” and record voter turnout, that whatever the final result, it will leave behind a divided nation. The rising passion for independence and the desire among Scots to free themselves from the rightwing Westminster yoke is unlikely to simply disappear in the event of “no” majority. The same applies in the case of a “yes” majority; those Scots who are emotionally, and particularly financially, wedded to the union are not simply going to shrug their shoulders. They will be resentful of the result. Nationalistic and democratic passions once aroused are not easily repressed, and as either “yes” or “no” seems certain to shake up the old order of British politics. Not just Scotland, but the whole of the UK will be divided. It is exciting time, history could be made, and I for one will be hoping for a “yes” vote.

But Scotland’s referendum and Sweden’s election may not be the only polarising votes to occur this week. The New Zealand election looks poised to be one of the most divisive in modern history, and like strong Turkish coffee it will leave a bitter taste in the mouth of loosing side.

If National wins it will be a national shame. On Monday the prime minister lowered himself to the level of a schoolyard bully by calling award winning journalist Glen Greenwald a “looser,” and a “henchman.” On Breakfast with Bob Hosking, Key insulted Kim Dotcom for being fat, and described the host of internationally recognised whistle blowers as being “little butts.” For anyone who watched the clip, and I recommend doing so, they could see that nice John was gone, his mask slipped and he came across as nasty, ugly and viscous. Key has repeatedly lied to the NZ public, and as a Stuff Ipsos poll shows, the people know it. The National government has been proven to illegally feed information to disgusting attack blogs, and has now been shown to be complicit in the mass surveillance of New Zealanders. More worrying than all of this, is National’s role in negotiating the TPPA, which will cede NZ sovereignty to international corporations (see Bob Amsterdam’s great interview on TV3). All of this information is now in the public domain – the government is corrupt, it is complicit in organising smear campaigns. It illegally engages in mass surveillance. Key repeatedly misled the public, is recklessly giving away our sovereignty, and on top of all this he no longer seems like a nice man but a petty bully.

If National wins the election, the more enlightened sections of the Public will be seething; indeed they already are. Following The Moment of Truth, a debate between Simon Wilson, editor of Metro Magazine, and Michelle Boag, president of the National party, on the Paul Henry Show descended into a yelling match with both sides shouting down the other. Wilson’s point was that The Moment of Truth had nothing to do with Kim Dotcom, and everything to do with the illegal actions of the GCSB. Boag meanwhile tried to present whole thing as some trick of Dotcom. As progressives see their concerns ignored and sneered at, while their characters, and the characters of people they respect, are belittled and attacked, they will find themselves less willing to simply accept a National government for three more years. They will not feel the government represents them. For this reason, the election is not likely to end the political anger that has typified the campaign. In the event of a National victory, progressive New Zealand will fight the government in the courts, and on the streets. Tensions are enflamed. National billboards have been defaced across the country. The Moment of Truth event in the Auckland town hall was packed to capacity with hundreds turned away from the event. People are screaming, “fuck John Key,” and even burning effigies of him.

But despite the opinions of John Armstrong and other commentators in the Herald, a National victory is not a foregone conclusion. The polls show National still flying in the high 40’s, but they also show a high percentage of undecided voters. It seems likely that these undecideds are progressive voters (perhaps they can’t make up their mind whether to vote Green or Labour) and they could easily sway the election in an unexpected direction. Also, National won the last election through low voter turnout and with this election campaign being more engaging than any I have ever witnessed, voter turnout could be high: the result a strong Labour/ Green government, with or without Winston.

This would be a historic shift to the left in NZ politics and it terrifies NZ’s increasingly powerful economic oligarchs who have made millions, and are set to make millions more, from ripping up and selling anything in NZ they can. It is not Labour that bothers the oligarchs, but the possibility that the Greens will get economic portfolios, allowing people like Russel Norman to have a veto over mining, and oil drilling. They are frightened of climate change legislation and the restoration of the RMA. They are frightened of protecting our rivers, forests and oceans for the future and the possibility that they may be forced to stop polluting. As the rabid right watch in horror as National’s campaign goes from bad to worse. They can see the writing on the wall for their, “mine it, sell it, fuck the planet,” ethos, and they don’t like what they see – a green party with real power. But with the Greens on the rise and National rotten to the core, the election could come down to the wire. And what ever happens on Saturday there will be nation divided. New Zealand also has an opportunity to make history this weekend.