New Zealand's Trump-esque 'Kingmaker' to decide election

 23 Sep 2017 - 20:49

New Zealand's Trump-esque 'Kingmaker' to decide election
New Zealand First party Leader Winston Peters speaks during an event held ahead of the national election at the Te Papa Museum located in Wellington, New Zealand August 23, 2017. REUTERS/Ross Setford


Wellington: For decades New Zealand First leader Winston Peters has been known as "The Kingmaker" -- a role the populist anti-immigration campaigner is set to play again after the country's general election ended in a stalemate.

New Zealand's complex proportional voting system means minor parties usually hold the balance of power, allowing Peters to carve out a parliamentary niche as the man in the middle of the major parties.

Both the incumbent National Party and the centre-left Labour opposition need the 72-year-old to form government.

Peters, a political veteran whose fiery rhetoric has seen him compared to US President Donald Trump, knows how to extract the most from coalition negotiations.

And despite his often trenchant views, he has shown in the past that he is pragmatic and will support either side of politics if the right offer is made.

Peters has played kingmaker twice before.

In 1996, he helped install a National-led government in return for being made deputy prime minister, then in 2005 he joined a Labour coalition after being given the job of foreign minister.

He has given no inkling during this campaign about who he would like to see in power, saying it will depend on negotiations with the major parties.

"I wish I could answer your question, honestly I wish I could because I've had it asked of me 1,000 times in the last five weeks," he told Radio New Zealand this week.

"But I can't... the reality of the matter is that things are changing so fast."

Peters, who is of mixed Maori and Scottish descent, entered parliament in 1978 as a member of the National Party.

He served as Maori affairs minister when National was elected in 1990 but was sacked over outspoken criticisms of his own government and went on to form New Zealand First (NZF).

The party's core support is the elderly, a constituency Peters has long appealed to with attacks on Asian immigration and foreign investment.

In the past, he has raised concerns about New Zealand becoming an "Asian colony" and warned about migrants taking jobs from locals.

- Comparisons to Trump -

This campaign he has added Trump-like criticisms of media and political elites to his repertoire, as well as anti-corporate rhetoric and appeals to "forgotten" voters.

Peters himself dismisses comparisons to Trump, saying: "I was around long before anybody ever heard of Donald Trump in politics."

Key elements of his campaign platform involve slashing immigration and placing limits on foreign investment.

He also wants to change the Reserve Bank of New Zealand's mandate so it targets the country's high exchange rate, rather than just inflation.

However, it is unlikely he will get control over such economic levers, with both parties ruling out making him finance minister.

It is certain though that the parties courting him will pay a price for his support.

"I'm a very reasonable person but I don't sell myself or my principles out," he said.

"If you go into negotiations preferring anyone you're leaving your team behind, you're not giving your country a chance and you're putting your personal bias out there.

"You've always got to be prepared to do deals, but in the national interest, not your own."

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