Armstrong on NZ election

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National's triumph at the ballot box may not have given it the absolute majority it might have had its fingers crossed for. However, last night's stunning result is still at the top end of what it could have realistically expected.

Indeed, that National has just missed out on being able to govern alone may turn out to be a blessing.

National is going to need friends over the long-term and this result requires it work with Act's five MPs.

United Future's Peter Dunne will also be in the coalition mix, even though he is not needed for National to secure a majority.

However, the result's big plus in coalition terms is that National and the Maori Party are not obliged to come to an agreement under forced circumstances.

The two parties can now explore an arrangement that suits them both, and allows them to develop a long-term and mutually fruitful relationship.

This has turned out to be a real "change" election.

What Helen Clark claimed was a "soft mood for change" among voters has turned out to be a lot firmer than she thought - and just about as hard as National had hoped.

The election also heralds a generational shift in politics.

In comes John Key as prime minister at the age of 47.

Out goes Helen Clark, who is in her late 50s, and Winston Peters, who is in his 60s.

However, the departure of both from Parliament leaves a massive hole in the political landscape.

On the other hand, the disappearance of NZ First from the House is another step in the slow shift in the MMP Parliament away from cult-of-personality parties, towards ones that overwhelmingly represent an identifiable segment of the voting population. Even if Peters sticks around in politics, it is unlikely NZ First will be back in three years.

Even though Clark has taken responsibility for Labour's loss and is standing down from the Labour leadership, there is some dignity for her in defeat.

Labour has been beaten quite thoroughly, but it has not been thrashed. Its vote did not collapse completely. That is a big plus for the party looking forward to 2011.

But Clark's going makes her a very hard act to follow, both for Labour's new leader and for Key as prime minister.

She has dominated politics for the past decade. She also faced benign economic conditions during that time - Key won't. The surprise package on the night was Rodney Hide's Act. The small sister party has been a very large thorn in National's side at times over the years.

But that was all forgiven and forgotten as Act, at one stage, looked like being the crucial difference between National clearly winning and a very messy result.

Apart from Labour and NZ First, the other disappointed party will be the Greens.

They were expected to benefit from Labour's loss of support, but didn't.

Once again they are shut out of Government.

Always the bridesmaid ...

- Herald on Sunday

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