A Tale of Two Elections: Learnings from New Zealand

While Republican presidential primaries are underway in the US, New Zealand just completed their national election yesterday.

In many ways, the two countries are quite similar: Both are democracies, born of British heritage originally. Both are facing recessions and the aftermath of big government spending. Watching the post-election interviews last night, it was obvious that politicians pretty much look and sound the same the world over. (One interesting note: All the party leaders interviewed sounded as if they’d won the election. It wasn’t until the commentators noted how poorly that party had fared, that it became obvious this was mainly a lot of spin.)

The differences, however, are interesting. While the US is a direct democracy, New Zealand is parliamentary. Citizens vote for parties rather than individuals; the parties then from coalitions to form a ruling majority.

That means that all the signage and ads plastered around the country the last couple of weeks focused on parties, not candidates, and each party had a clearly staked out position. Labour appears to be totally out of favor at the present and ACT, the party that seems closest to the US tea party in sentiment, didn’t do well at all. Even though John Key appears to be a popular leader, he was not the focus of the National party messaging. In fact, his name and face never appeared.

[Presidential elections in the US are in actuality a two-part system, since voters choose electors who in turn cast votes for the actual candidate. However, the electors are pledged to a candidate not to a party and voters focus on the individual candidate.]

National elections here are held on a Saturday, not a weekday, probably to make it easier for people to vote without impacting work scheduled.

While there are issues with this approach to elections, It was a refreshing change from the ongoing set of primary debates we see in the US from the party out of power. Since the differences between many Republicans aren’t that distinct or very different at all, we focus on Michelle Bachmann’s lack of preparedness, Herman Cain’s 9-9-9 and Rick Perry’s inability to keep more than 2 thoughts in his head at any given time. We don’t even have a good forum for additional pary candidates like ACT or Greens.

Is there a right or wrong way to do this? No, but it’s a relief not to be subjected to the two year long beauty contest we’ve chosen to elect a key leader of the free world.

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