Populist party likely to be kingmaker

New Zealand First Party chief Winston Peters has governed with both the Labour and National parties in the past.
New Zealand First Party chief Winston Peters has governed with both the Labour and National parties in the past.

WELLINGTON • Populist New Zealand First (NZF) Party leader Winston Peters said yesterday evening that he believes his party would decide the next government after the hotly contested national elections.

Mr Peters, 72, reiterated that he would not rush into a decision on whether to support the incumbent National Party, which has ruled for nine years, or the centre-left opposition Labour Party.

"We do have the main cards, we're not going to squander that," Mr Peters, who has played kingmaker in the past and governed with both Labour and National, told supporters.

"As things stand, I do believe we have the balance of political responsibility. We're not going to be hasty with that," he said.

The maverick will try to extract policy concessions and ministerial positions in return for his support in talks that could take a couple of weeks.

In return for backing a National government in 1996, Mr Peters was appointed deputy prime minister and treasurer. When he supported Labour in 2005, he was rewarded with the foreign affairs portfolio.

Mr Peters made clear he would not say who he would support yesterday evening or even today.

Greens leader James Shaw, whose party is allied with Labour but would still need NZF's support to form the government, offered an olive branch to Mr Peters. "I know our parties don't agree on everything, but now is the time to put those differences aside and to work together," he said. His party and Mr Peters' NZF have a frosty relationship.

Mr Peters, whose populist appeal has seen him compared with United States President Donald Trump, advocates slashing immigration to just 10,000 a year from about 73,000 currently.

He also proposes adopting a Singapore-style monetary policy so that the central bank can directly control and devalue the New Zealand dollar.

However, he has proven to be more moderate in his previous stints in government than his rhetoric while in opposition suggests.

"This party is a realistic, common-sense party, we don't like extremism," Mr Peters said. "We believe in laws and policies that support the mass majority of New Zealanders and not just a small elite."

REUTERS, BLOOMBERG, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 24, 2017, with the headline 'Populist party likely to be kingmaker'. Print Edition | Subscribe