There were tears and one girl took off in a huff on Tuesday afternoon as a tense, exciting eight-week political election campaign came to a close at Rutherford Primary School in Te Atatu. The votes were cast by the Year Five and Six pupils of Room Four and Room Five in the block of classrooms in front of the netball court.

Room Five teacher Jules Coup called for order, and had the kids sit on the floor. Earlier, when the four political parties competing in the election - BizSport, Dragonflies, TecX4, and Stars - had presented their policies to the class, Stars leader Lauren Thorn said, "We don't think it's fair that teachers get to sit on a chair while kids sit on the floor. Vote for us and we'll change that around."

Each party had to lay out their ideas for taking control of the school for a single day. Over eight weeks, policies have been worked out, leaders were appointed, and a lot of creative thinking went into producing fliers, posters, and party songs.

In the middle of the campaign, the school hosted local politicians who are engaged in some other campaign. Phil Twyford is the local MP but no one ever sees him around Te Atatu, and so Labour were represented by Carmel Sepuloni. National's Alfred Ngaro came, of course; he's at all the community events - the Mud Run, the Meet Your Neighbours Day at the Baptist Church - and besides he lives around the corner from the school in a house with a pool out the back and a set of really steep, almost vertical stairs leading into the basement.


In the run-up to Tuesday's vote, TecX4 had flirted with the idea of solving the housing crisis. They wanted to build more homes. But that seemed a bit much to achieve in one day of power, and the party presented a clear, simple message on Tuesday. "We love the environment," said leader Emmilia Day, "and wifi."

John-Allan Lambert, one of the MPs, talked about their day in power. "After morning tea, there will be gardening," he said.

Other ideas included picking up rubbish for 15 minutes, and kids could have the option of playing rugby league or staging a talent show.

Next up, Stars leader Lauren Thorn outlined her party's beliefs. Much of it seemed to revolve around the idea of having a lot of fun. "After morning tea, we will have playgrounds time," she said. There was also computer time, time out to read a book, and a movie screening.

William Harriss, the Dragonflies MP who came second in the school speech competition recently when he spoke about sharks, laid out his party's plans. "If you vote for us," he said, "we will make all your dreams come true." There would be exciting scientific experiments - tornado in a bottle, and mixing milk with food colouring - and fun word searches.

This left BizSport, a curious hybrid of National and Labour. Co-leaders Krystal Li and Minka Braunias shared their really quite detailed plans. Their idea was to hold a sports day and charge $1 entry fee. The proceeds would be equally divided among schools needing sports equipment, schools needing learning equipment, and foodbanks. The sports day would include netball or basketball, soccer or rugby, and - how this counts as sport is baffling - 40 minutes of literacy testing.

The presentations complete, Mrs Coup then asked the class to line up, and step forward to cast two votes for their two favourite parties.

"What's your name, Miss," she said, to Sophie Kelly, whose mother Michelle works in the school office.

"Kelly, Sophie," she said.

"Here you go, darling," said Mrs Coup, and gave her the voting form.

Interviews were conducted with some of the party leaders while the votes were being cast and then counted.

Emmilia Day was asked what the best thing about her party was, and she said, "That we're all friends."

Minka Braunias was asked how her day was, and she said, "Good, dad."

And then the votes were presented on the whiteboard. Stars and TecX4 tied at 18 votes each. Dragonflies got 23. The winning party was BizSport, with a clear majority of 31 votes.

Zahra Wihongi, a BizSport MP, was asked how she felt to win the election. "Wonderful," she said. "It's a good feeling."

Co-leader Krystal Li was asked how she'd feel if her party had lost. "I'd have cried," she said. "So, so much."

But the election wasn't finished. It wasn't FPP; it was MMP, and the party with the most votes needs to enter coalition talks with another party. The talks will be held on Wednesday. Just before the bell went on Tuesday afternoon, Mrs Coup got the kids to sit on the floor, and she said to everyone, "Your challenge is to remember what you stand for, and to help each other and not hurt each other. If you're BizSport, it's about being humble. If you're from another party, it's about being proud, and knowing what a great job you all did this election. Give yourselves a pat on the back."

They all patted themselves on the back. The bell went. Mrs Coup said, "Go home and have a happy evening."