End of reign for New Zealand kingmaker Winston Peters

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WELLINGTON: Winston Peters, the kingmaker who put Jacinda Ardern into power three years ago and served as her deputy prime minister, was on Saturday (Oct 17) a significant casualty of the landslide victory for Ardern’s Labour Party in the New Zealand election.

However, the 75-year-old who first entered parliament 41 years ago, refused to say his long and colourful political career was over.

“For any challenge it is the preparedness to stand up and take on the challenge, win or lose, that really matters and as for the next challenge we all have to wait and see,” he told the party faithful at their election night gathering.

Peters, popularly known just by his given name Winston or Winnie, was first elected in 1979 representing the centre-right National Party before establishing his own populist New Zealand First party 14 years later.

However, on Saturday New Zealand First secured just 2.6 per cent of the vote, well below the five per cent threshold to get any MPs elected and none of its candidates won an electorate seat.

READ: Commentary: The transformation of Jacinda Ardern is almost complete

After the last election in 2017, when neither of the major parties, Labour or National, had enough seats to govern alone, Peters with nine MPs held the balance of power and after weeks of negotiation he backed Ardern’s Labour.

It was his third time as kingmaker, providing not only support for Ardern but also propping up the National government after the 1996 election and Labour in 2005.

Although once famously declaring that as kingmaker he was not seeking the “baubles of office”, he has been deputy prime minister twice, filled in as acting prime minister and was known on the international stage from serving as foreign minister from 1996 to 1998 and with the Ardern government.

“I have huge respect,” Ardern said of Peters’ career.

“He has dedicated his life to public service, to parliament, and I hope he feels proud of what we did in the last three years because I certainly do.”

Whether Peters returns to parliament remains unclear but he was adamant there remained a need for New Zealand First.

READ: Commentary: How Jacinda Ardern became New Zealand’s most popular political influencer

“For 27 years there’s been one party that’s been prepared to question the establishment and challenge authority, and tonight more than ever that force is still needed,” he said, highlighting an economy devastated by COVID-19.

“Its effects have not been well canvassed, and if there’s one cause for grave disquiet, it is the nature of the economic crisis not being totally understood. This was an election that because of COVID-19 and extended lockdowns, was like no other this country has ever seen even in wartime.”

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