Political parties in New Zealand

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New Zealand national politics feature a pervasive party system. Usually, all members of Parliament's unicameral House of Representatives belong to a political party. Independent MPs occur relatively rarely. Unlike some other democracies, New Zealand no longer has an entrenched two-party arrangement - while two primary parties do indeed dominate the political landscape, smaller groups can reasonably expect to play a role in government. As of 2005, eight parties have representatives in parliament.



Political parties in New Zealand evolved towards the end of the 19th century out of interest groups and personal cliques. Most historians regard the Liberal Party, which began its rule in 1891, as the first real party in New Zealand politics. During the long period of Liberal Party control the party's more conservative opponents founded the Reform Party, forming the original duopoly in the New Zealand parliament.

Gradually, Liberal and Reform found themselves working together more often, mostly in opposition to the growing Labour Party. After Labour eventually won office in 1935, the Liberals and Reform came together to form the National Party. Labour and National currently exist as the two main parties of New Zealand politics.

Over the years, a number of "third parties" or so-called "minor parties" developed - notably the Social Credit Party, the New Zealand Party, the Values Party, and the Alliance. However, the "first past the post" electoral system meant that no matter how many votes a party gained nation-wide, it could not win a seat without a majority in a particular electorate (voting district). Under such conditions, these parties mostly performed poorly in terms of making an impact in Parliament.

With the introduction of the MMP electoral system for the 1996 elections, however, it became much easier for smaller parties to enter parliament - and more difficult to gain election as a non-party independent. Since the change to MMP, about one third of the seats in Parliament have been held by MPs representing parties other than Labour and National. In the years before MMP, by contrast, there were sometimes no such MPs at all.

Registration of parties

Political parties in New Zealand can be either registered or unregistered. Registered parties must have five-hundred paying members, each eligible to vote in general elections. If a party registers, it may submit a party list, enabling it to receive party votes in New Zealand's MMP electoral system. Unregistered parties may still nominate candidates for individual electorates, however.

Parties currently in parliament

The order in which parties appear in this list corresponds to the number of MPs they currently have.

Party Leader(s) Description Seats
Labour Party Helen Clark A centre-left, socially progressive party. Currently the largest party in Parliament, it dominates the governing coalition. Its leader serves as the current Prime Minister, having been appointed in 1999. 51
National Party Don Brash A centre-right, socially conservative party. The second largest party in Parliament, it has traditionally been Labour's main opponent. It supports lower taxation and opposes the government's race relations policies. 27
New Zealand First Winston Peters A centrist, populist, and nationalist party. Its primary goals are reducing immigration, reducing Treaty of Waitangi payments, increasing sentences for crime, and buying back former state assets. 13
ACT Rodney Hide A party that promotes free market economics, low taxation, reduced government expenditure, and increased punishments for crime. It sees itself as promoting accountability and transparency in government. 9
Green Party Jeanette Fitzsimons
and Rod Donald
A left-leaning environmentalist party. In recent times, its most notable campaign has denounced genetic engineering. It also promotes highly progressive social policies. 9
United Future Peter Dunne A centrist or centre-right party with a strong Christian streak: it describes itself as based around "common sense". It has a particular focus on policies concerning the family and social issues. 8
Progressive Party Jim Anderton A left-wing party with a particular focus on job creation and regional development. It forms the junior partner in Labour's coalition government, with its leader serving as a cabinet minister. 2
Maori Party Tariana Turia
and Pita Sharples
A party based around New Zealand's indigenous Maori minority. It crystallised in 2004 around Tariana Turia, a former minister of the Labour Party. It promotes what it sees as the rights and interests of Maori. 1

Registered parties outside of Parliament

Parties listed in alphabetical order:

Party Leader Description
99 MP Party Margaret Robertson A party primarily focused on reducing the total number of MPs from 120 to 99. It also believes that all constitutional changes should be put to a referendum.
Alliance Jill Ovens and
Paul Piesse
A left-wing party supporting the welfare state, free education, environmental protection, and Maori interests. The Progressive Party (see above) formed as a splinter-group from the Alliance when Jim Anderton, former Alliance leader, left.
Christian Heritage NZ Ewen McQueen A party based around Christian conservative values. It supports policies to strengthen marriage and opposes abortion and same-sex unions.
Democratic Party Stephnie de Ruyter A party based around the idea of Social Credit. The party formerly formed part of the Alliance (see above), and prior to that, as the Social Credit Party, was one of the older surviving parties in New Zealand.
Destiny New Zealand Richard Lewis A party based around the Destiny Church, a Christian religious organization. The party mostly campaigns on a family values platform, and strongly opposes recent legislative changes such as the creation of same-sex civil unions and the legalisation of prostitution.
Family Rights Protection Party Manoo Mulitalo? A party established by a group of Pacific Islanders who claim that larger parties are taking the support of Pacific Islanders for granted, and do not do enough to help them.
Legalise Cannabis Party Michael Appleby A party which (as its name suggests) supports the legalisation of cannabis. This remains the core of its platform, although it also comments on other issues that it considers related.
Libertarianz Bernard Darnton A libertarian party dedicated to laissez-faire capitalism and keeping government as small as possible.
One New Zealand Party Richard Fisher A small party modelled on Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party in Australia. It opposes all special policies towards Maori.
Outdoor Recreation NZ Lester Roy Phelps A party dedicated to promoting the interests of the hunting, fishing, and shooting communities. Outdoor Recreation New Zealand has agreed to contest the 2005 election under the banner of the United Future party, although the parties will not actually merge.
Te Tawharau ? A Maori party which contested the last election as a component of the Mana Maori Movement, but which later re-established its independence.
WIN Party John van Buren A party which describes itself as promoting freedom of choice for ordinary New Zealanders. It is particularly opposed to the recently introduced smoking ban for bars and restaurants.

Unregistered parties

Parties listed in alphabetical order:

Party Leader Description
Anti-Capitalist Alliance ? A coalition of socialists and anti-globalisation activists. It supports increased rights to strike for workers, a shorter working week, a guaranteed living wage, open borders, and an end to any New Zealand involvement in Western military activities.
Equal Values Party Adele Hughes A party which believes that New Zealanders' "basic requirements for life" are not being met. It supports free education and healthcare, an increase to social welfare benefits, and the establishment of compulsory superannuation schemes.
Freedom Party Gareth Turner
and Paul King
A party established by two former members of ACT New Zealand. Its policies are intended to be similar to those of ACT, but the party's founders say that the Freedom Party will be more democratic and accountable to its members.
National Front Kyle Chapman A far right party which wishes to stop non-white immigration, reintroduce capital punishment and conscription, withdraw from international organisations such as the United Nations, and nullify the Treaty of Waitangi. It is sometimes accused of being a neo-Nazi group, although the party denies this.
Patriot Party Sid Wilson? A small Auckland-based party believed to have been established by former members of the National Front (above).
People's Choice Party Rusty Kane? A small party which was registered for the 1999 elections, but which is currently unregistered. It campaigned against MMP and in favour of reducing the size of Parliament. It remains active as a ginger group.
Republic Aotearoa New Zealand Party Kerry Bevin A party which seeks to establish a New Zealand Republic.

Historical parties

Parties which held seats

Party Existed In Parliament Description
Christian Democrats 1995 - 1998 1995 - 1996 A Christian party established by sitting National MP Graeme Lee. After briefly establishing the Christian Coalition (see above) with the Christian Heritage Party, the Christian Democrats secularised themselves, adopting the name "Future New Zealand". Future New Zealand merged with United (see below) to form United Future New Zealand.
Country Party ? - ? 1928 - 1938 A party established by members of the Farmers' Union to promote the interests of the rural sector. It reflected to an extent social credit monetary theory, and believed that farmers were not treated fairly by banks and the corporate world.
Democratic Labour Party 1940 - 1943 1940 - 1943 A splinter from the Labour Party led by dissident MP John A. Lee. Lee, a socialist and social creditist, believed that the Labour Party had moved too far from its left-wing roots. The Labour Party hierarchy had expelled him after he repeatedly criticised its leadership.
Future New Zealand 1994 - 1995 1994 - 1995 A short-lived party established by Peter Dunne after he left the Labour Party. It integrated into the United New Zealand party. Not to be confused with a later party of the same name.
Independent Political Labour League 1905 - 1910 1908 - 1910 A small and short-lived left-wing party. It was the second organised party to win a seat in Parliament, with David McLaren winning the seat of Wellington East. In Parliament, the IPLL co-operated with the governing Liberal Party.
Labour Party (original) 1910 - 1912 1910 - 1912 A short-lived successor to the Independent Political Labour League. It functioned as one of the more moderate workers' parties, opposing more radical groups like the Socialist Party. It should not be confused with the modern Labour Party, although a certain degree of continuity links the two.
Liberal Party 1891 - 1927 1891 - 1927 New Zealand's first real political party. It provided the country with a number of prominent Prime Ministers, including John Ballance and Richard Seddon. With much of its traditional support undercut by the growing Labour Party, the remnants of the Liberals (known as the United Party) eventually merged with the Reform Party to form the modern National Party.
Liberal Party 1992 - 1996? 1992 A short-lived splinter from the National Party, formed by Hamish McIntyre and Gilbert Myles, two dissident National MPs who disagreed with the economic policies of Ruth Richardson. The Liberal Party quickly joined the Alliance, which the two saw as the principal opponent of Richardson and her ideological allies.
Mana Wahine Te Ira Tangata 1998 - 2001 1998 - 1999 A short-lived Maori feminist party established by Alliance (Mana Motuhake) defector Alamein Kopu. The party contested only one general election before vanishing.
Mauri Pacific 1999 - 2001 1999 A party established by several New Zealand First MPs shortly after a coalition between New Zealand First and the National Party broke down. Mauri Pacific remained allied to the National government, giving it crucial support, but none of the party's MPs gained re-election in the 1999 elections.
NewLabour Party 1989 - 1991 1989 - 1991 A left-wing party established by former Labour MP Jim Anderton. It contested one election before joining with several other parties to establish the Alliance.
Reform Party 1909 - 1936 1909 - 1936 New Zealand's second major political party, established as a more conservative opponent to the Liberal Party. Its founder, William Massey, became its most prominent leader. It eventually merged with its former rivals, the Liberals, to form the modern National Party.
Social Credit Party 1953 - 1986 1966 - 1969
1979 - 1987
New Zealand's "third party" between the 1960s and the 1980s. The Social Credit Party espoused the theory of social credit, a type of monetary reform, although much of its support represented protest votes rather than support of its policies. It has since renamed itself, becoming the Democratic Party.
Social Democratic Party 1913 - 1916 1913 - 1916 An early left-wing party established at a "Unity Congress" in July 1913 as an attempt to bring together the various labour groups of the time. The party eventually amalgamated with the modern Labour Party.
Socialist Party (i) 1901 - 1913 ? - 1913 One of the more prominent Marxist parties in early New Zealand, strongly associated with the Federation of Labour (the "Red Fed"). It eventually merged with the more moderate United Labour Party to form the Social Democratic Party.
United New Zealand 1995 - 2000 1995 - 2000 A centrist party established by moderate MPs from both National and Labour. The party did not achieve electoral success, with only one of the seven founding MPs managing to remain in parliament. United later merged with the Future New Zealand party to form the modern United Future New Zealand.
United Labour Party 1912 - 1913 1912 - 1913 A reformed continuation of the original original Labour Party. The party existed only a short time before merging with the Socialist Party to form the Social Democratic Party, although a faction rejected the new SDP as too extreme and attempted to continue on under the United Labour Party banner.
United Party 1927 - 1936 1927 - 1936 A party formed from the remnants of the Liberal Party. United governed between 1928 and 1935, initially with Labour support and later in coalition with the Reform Party. It eventually merged with Reform to establish the modern National Party.

Parties which never held seats

Party Existed Description
Asia Pacific United Party ? - ? A party which attempted to gain support from Asian and Pacific Islander immigrants. It contested the 1996 and 1999 elections, but has since dissolved.
Christian Coalition 1996 - 1997 A brief alliance of the Christian Democrats and the Christian Heritage Party. It narrowly missed entering parliament in the 1996 election, and disbanded shortly afterwards.
Communist Party 1929 - 1994 Probably New Zealand's most prominent and long-lived communist organisation. The party generally pursued hard-line doctrines, successively following Stalin's Soviet Union, Mao Zedong's China, and Enver Hoxha's Albania. In 1993, the party moderated its stance, adopting Trotskyism. It later merged with another party to form the modern Socialist Workers Organization.
Co-operative Party 1942 - ? A short-lived party established by Albert Davy, a prominent anti-socialist political organiser. It was primarily a breakaway from the larger People's Movement, and Davy rejoined the Movement the year after the Co-operative Party was established.
Democrat Party 1934 - ? A party established to promote the interests of the commercial sector and to oppose "socialist" legislation. The party contested the 1935 elections, but failed to win any seats. Ironically, the votes which the Democrats took from the governing coalition may have assisted the victory of the left-wing Labour Party that year. The Democrat Party should not be confused with the modern Democratic Party.
Ethnic Minority Party 1996 - 1997 A party focused around New Zealand's immigrant community, particularly Chinese and Indians. The popularity of New Zealand First, a party which opposed immigration, was a significant factor in its creation. It merged into United New Zealand, but little trace of it remains today.
Future New Zealand 1998 - 2002 A reconfiguration of the former Christian Democrat Party. Future New Zealand retained the same family values principles as the Christian Democrats, but abandoned the explicit religious basis. Future New Zealand merged with United New Zealand to form the modern United Future New Zealand.
Green Society ? - ? A small environmentalist party. The Green Society believed that a true green party needed to be focused solely on the environment, and believed that the Green Party (then part of the Alliance) and the Progressive Green Party were both mistaken to take sides in economic and social debates.
Imperial British Conservative Party 1974 - ? A joke party founded by Ian Brackenbury Channell, better known as "the Wizard of New Zealand". True to its name, it claimed to support imperialism, British people, and conservatism.
Liberal Party ? - ? A party which campaigned in the 1963 elections on a platform of reducing the size of the government, introducing a written constitution, and restoring the upper house of Parliament.
Mana Maori Movement 1993 - 2005? A party based around New Zealand's indigenous Maori inhabitants, founded by Eva Rickard, a prominent Maori activist and a former Mana Motuhake candidate.
Mana Motuhake 1979? - 2005? The most prominent Maori-based party until the creation of the modern Maori Party. Mana Motuhake held a number of seats as part of the Alliance (see above), but most of its support has now been incorporated into the Maori Party.
McGillicuddy Serious Party 1984? - 1999 A joke party intended to satirise politics in general. Among other deliberately absurd policies it advocated the "Great Leap Backwards", a project to reverse the industrial revolution and to re-establish a medieval way of life.
Natural Law Party 1995 - 2001? A party which based its principles on the concept of natural law as promoted by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in his theory of Transcendental Meditation. It drew most of its support from the New Age movement.
New Democratic Party 1972 - ? A short-lived splinter group of the Social Credit Party, founded by ousted Social Credit leader John O'Brien. It placed fifth in the 1972 elections, but failed to win any seats.
New Zealand Party 1983 - 1986 A party established by property tycoon Bob Jones to promote free market economic policies and liberal social policies. It gained twelve percent of the vote in its first election, but then vanished almost completely. Some regard the modern ACT party as the New Zealand Party's ideological successor, but not everyone accepts this view.
People's Movement 1940s A right-wing organisation which supported reductions in the size of government and a reform of the party system. It was a strong supporter of individualism, saying that the government of the time was advocating the subordination of the individual to the state.
Phoenix Party 1960s - 1970s A small Dunedin-based grouping, founded by Gerald Williams, who saw the then Labour Party as moribund and in need of a phoenix-like resurrection. Williams became an effective propagandist, penning campaign literature disguised as parodies of well-known songs. He later transferred his efforts to the Values Party.
Progressive Green Party 1995 - ? An environmentalist party established in opposition to the generally left-wing policies of the larger Green Party. It contested only one election before vanishing, although many of its members became active in the National Party.
Real Democracy Movement 1940s A party which supported the principles of Social Credit, a theory of monetary reform. It failed to win any seats, but probably contributed to the later Social Credit Party.
Socialist Party 1930 - ? A party established by former members of the New Zealand Marxian Association, a Marxist group. Its founders created it as an alternative to the mainstream labour movement, claiming that the Labour Party had moved too far from its left-wing roots. The Socialist Party eventually became the modern World Socialist Party.
Socialist Unity Party 1966 - ? A splinter group of the Communist Party (see above). It formed around Communist Party members who rejected their party's decision to take China's side in the Sino-Soviet split. The Socialist Unity Party became one of the more prominent communist parties in New Zealand.
South Island Party ? - 2002 A regionalist party which called for more autonomy for the South Island, the less populous of New Zealand's two main islands. It drew support predominantly from Otago and Southland.
United Political Party ? - ? A small party established by Tania Harris, known for leading a march in protest against trade unions and strike action. It eventually became part of a "centrist conservative" coalition led by Bruce Beetham.
Values Party 1972 - 1990 Sometimes called the world's first national-level green party. Elements of the Values Party eventually contributed to the formation of the modern Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand.
Women's Independence Party 1969 - ? A party established with the goal of "helping to make women realise the power of the vote". It focused most of its attention on the issues it saw as most important to women — the rising cost of living, women's healthcare, and women's rights in divorce. The party was based mainly in Auckland.

See also

Template:New Zealand political parties Template:Historic New Zealand political parties


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