September 23. It's the day that, in 1122, Pope Callixtus II and Holy Roman emperor Henry V agreed to the Concordat of Worms to try and put an end to the Investiture Controversy (which, weirdly enough, had nothing to do with investments).
It's also the same day that, in 1887, the University of Allahabad - India's fourth-oldest university - was founded, not to mention the birthday (in 1907) of the late French journalist and author Anne Desclos. It's also Kyrgyz Language Day, National Day in Saudi Arabia, and the Christian feast day of Adomnán, Padre Pio, and a few other people.
Oh, and I suppose it's also Election Day here in Aotearoa. How could I have forgotten that?
I'm sure other newcomers to the Land of the Long White Cloud are baffled as to what all the hullaballoo is about, too. Fortunately, there's an entire industry of people covering it. They're called pundits.
But you know what pundits sometimes miss? The weirdness of it all. You know, the strange stuff. Like that you can win the election, but not be able to actually take power. True story.
So, I've put together a short guide to some of the stranger aspects of this exercise in democracy. Here's hoping it proves useful.
THE QUEEN OF ENGLAND CAN CANCEL THE WHOLE THING
When New Zealand citizens and permanent residents vote for who'll lead the nation, what they're really voting for is who will govern under an agreement with Queen Elizabeth II, who under a thing called "royal assent" can nullify any act of Parliament for any reason.
The whole thing is even more confusing considering New Zealand has technically been an independent nation since long before she became queen. Go figure.
YOU CAN WIN THE ELECTION AND STILL NOT BE ABLE TO GOVERN
Once ballots are cast, they'll be counted, and a winner will be announced. Or possibly announced. It gets complicated, you see.
Basically, whichever party gets the most votes gets first dibs at forming a government with the other parties - a "government" meaning a coalition that controls the majority of the 121 seats in Parliament. But if you can't get enough people to agree to form a coalition with you, then the other parties get a crack. And even if you do successfully form a coalition, the other parties can usually back out at any time - creating the need for new elections.
I'm sorry, but all that makes no sense. This is why I prefer the simplicity of basketball compared to politics. The team that scores the most points wins. Always.
TECHNICALLY, NONE OF THE RULES MATTER
This one may sound strange. Yes, there are laws in Aotearoa, and an Electoral Commission that oversees the election. But New Zealand is also one of the few nations that does not have a single written constitution that is above all other laws. Most agreements are either informal or set by precedent - meaning, theoretically, a particularly clever cat could form its own party, win the election, and declare that human rights come second to feline rights. Given how topsy-turvy things have been this election, it wouldn't particularly shock me.
Fun fact: even North Korea has a single written constitution.
YOU MUST STAY SILENT ON SOCIAL MEDIA FOR MOST OF ELECTION DAY
You read that right.
According to the Electoral Commission, any media - including social media - statements "likely to influence which candidate or party a person should, or should not, vote for" is illegal from midnight until 7 pm on Election Day. The penalty for breaking the rules? Up to $20,000. So, it might be best to avoid tweeting about why you're voting for that aforementioned cat. Though I suppose you could challenge any penalties you might face based on the whole no written constitution thing.
THE WHOLE THING IS PROMOTED BY AN ORANGE GUY
Presumably to encourage people to vote - or, were one a conspiracy theorist, to frighten people away from the polls - the Electoral Commission uses a mascot called Orange Guy.
I'm not joking. The vaguely human-shaped orange thing appears on everything from letters sent in the mail to TV and radio adverts, billboards, internet ads, and more. I understand the importance of encouraging people to vote (since, unlike Australia, you're not required by law to vote in New Zealand), but why can't they use something a little less, well, weird? Why not a talking kiwi bird, or dress someone up in a hobbit costume?
Air New Zealand seems to specialise in cheesy kitsch. Why not just ask them for help? Seriously, anything could be better than a bloody orange blob.
HOARDING IS ENCOURAGED
It's true - but not hoarding as you might think.
The signs that one does see for the election - you know, the ones with pictures of someone in a suit contorting their face in a forced smile, accompanied by vague phrases like "Delivering for New Zealanders" or "Let's do this" - are called "hoardings".
I just can't stand that word. Hoardings. It makes me think or hoarders, or a horde of something not very nice, like orcs or Nazis. Are those things a politician wants to be associated with? They really need to come up with a better name. Like "signs".
No matter who wins the election on the 23rd, odds are that the sun will still rise on the 24th. The All Blacks will continue to be the dominant force that they are. And kiwis (the birds) will still be unable to fly.
But seriously, no matter the result, the transfer of power will probably be peaceful. But if a cat really does pull it off... well, then all bets are off.