Formation, durability and susceptibility : coalition traits that affected New Zealand's MMP governments of 1996-2002 : a dissertation presented in fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Public Policy, Massey University, Albany Campus, North Shore City, New Zealand
This thesis explores the relevant impact of three influences - policy, personality and opportunity - on New Zealand governments since 1996. The Mixed Member Proportional electoral system (MMP) was adopted by New Zealand for the 1996 general election. The various coalition government arrangements since then have been analysed using a series of case studies of identified events during coalitions’ crucial pre-election, formation, duration and termination stages. The roles assumed by, or perceived of, small parties have been important as have the actions of the pivotal party in each government.
My interest in this topic springs from my service as an Alliance MP. I was an Alliance party list Member of Parliament during the 45th and 46th Parliaments (1996-2002). Systems theory was relied upon as the methodology with which to study relevant political processes. Key informant interviews and participant observation were the main research methods.
This research investigates the traits, apparent in the coalitions formed from 1996 until 2002, which contributed to each government’s continuation or termination. Each stage reflected the parties’ competing interests as argued by theorists such as Muller and Strøm. Wolfgang Muller and Kaare Strøm knitted together theoretical approaches and concluded that politicians are motivated by competing goals. This seminal work provides the theoretical guideline for explaining events in New Zealand and was adopted as a framework to develop this research.
Coalitions faced policy shocks, adverse polls and other critical events during the three coalition governments included in this study. Politicians adapted the formal and informal constraints. In this way, they attempted to strengthen the attributes of both the Parliaments and Cabinet to ensure that they were robust enough to withstand adverse incidents. Politicians’ ambitions fluctuated between seeking office, policy objectives or electoral support depending upon the circumstances of the time. Stable and durable coalitions, as desired by the 1986 Royal Commission on the Electoral System, were those where the relevant parties’ leadership enjoyed positive relationships with each other.
However, parties could not be considered to be unitary actors. Intra-party relationships were important factors. Intra-party dissension contributed to inter-party conflict and vice versa. Governments that were terminated earlier than constitutionally required suffered from deteriorating intra-party and/or inter-party relationships. The crucial component identified as an important consideration for the success or otherwise of any coalition government can be summed up as that pertaining to ‘relationship issues’ as affected by policy, personality and opportunity.