Racist campaign cuts no ice with NZ voters

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The Independent Online
NEW Zealand's centre-right coalition government hung on to its single-seat majority in Parliament with a by-election victory on Saturday, but was dealt a sharp rebuke by voters.

The Prime Minister Jenny Shipley's National Party had its majority in the Taranaki-King Country seat slashed from more than 10,000 in the 1996 general election to 966.

But there was worse for her junior coalition partner, New Zealand First, led by the one-time glamour boy of New Zealand politics Winston Peters, which was humiliated. Its candidate, who took 17 per cent of the vote to finish second in 1996, attracted only 2.75 per cent this time to come sixth, four votes behind the minor Christian Heritage Party and only slightly ahead of the Greens and the Legalise Cannabis Party.

It was a devastating result for Mr Peters, the Deputy Prime Minister and Treasurer, who conducted a vigorous campaign in the rural North Island seat, and raises doubts about his and the party's long-term future.

The outcome shows the magic has gone from the NZ First party he founded with a nationalistic crusade of cuts in immigration and foreign investment, winning him the balance of power after the 1996 election.

The party's failure to capture three per cent of the vote confirmed recent nationwide opinion polls showing NZ First would disappear as a political force if a general election were held now.

The extreme right-wing ACT NZ (formerly the Association of Consumers and Taxpayers) laid claim to replace it as the National Party's coalition partner after next year's election, finishing second on Saturday with 25 per cent of the vote. ACT has eight MPs, against NZ First's 17.

Mrs Shipley, who caused Saturday's ballot by sending Jim Bolger - the man she ousted as Prime Minister last year - to Washington as ambassador, described ACT's claim as premature. "I have heard people write off Winston Peters in the past and be proven wrong," she said.

When he won the balance of power, he joined them in coalition, an act of betrayal huge numbers of his former supporters have not forgiven.