Yesterday the 49th New Zealand Parliament sat for the last time and in 50 days around three million New Zealanders will vote for the 50th New Zealand Parliament.
The Parliament started with 122 MPs and finished with 120, missing two Carters. John Carter was in the Cook Islands as their new High Commission and Chris Carter in Kabul fighting corruption (yet up until last week still voting in Parliament also).
Of the 120 remaining MPs, 18 have chosen to retire - some willingly, and some less so. Five of National's 57 MPs are retiring as are five of Labour's 43 MPs. Amongst the smaller parties the Greens have two out of nine departing, the sole Progressive MP is leaving and quite remarkably the entire ACT Caucus is not standing again.
Of the eight parliamentary parties, four are pretty much guaranteed to be in the 50th Parliament. National, Labour and the Greens are all expected to pass the 5% threshold. At one stage there may have been doubt over the Greens, but on their current polling the question is more whether they will break the 10% barrier for the first time.
The Maori Party will be back in Parliament on the basis that no one thinks Tariana Turia will lose her seat of Te Tai Hauraru. The challenge for the Maori Party is how many of her colleagues will return. Pita Sharples has to fight off Labour's rising Shane Jones, Te Ururoa Flavell needs to beat long-time activist Annette Sykes and in the South, Rahui Katene faces a formidable challenge from Labour's Rino Tirikatene.
The Mana Party is likely to be back also. Despite a Marae Digipoll showing Hone Harawira trailing Kelvin Davis by 2%, few people are predicting Hone won't hold onto his seat. His challenge is to get a second MP in, as if he fails at that his party will become the Hone party. He has two routes to achieve that. Either Annette Sykes wins Waiariki (and polls suggest Flavell is well ahead), or they attract over 1.2% of the party vote. To do that, Hone needs to target voters on the left.
United Future is hoping that the 2011 election will be a re-run of the 2002 election and see their party vote lift as a result of the debates. However I don't think this soufflé will rise twice and United Future is unlikely to get the 1.2% needed to get a second MP. There is also some risk that Peter Dunne could lose his seat to Labour's Charles Chauvel (or even National's Katrina Shanks).
The Progressive Party will not be back. Its sole MP Jim Anderton is retiring, and it seemed to have no useful purpose except to give Jim his own party. While some will miss Anderton, no one will miss the Progressive Party.
Finally we have the ACT Party, with their entire caucus retiring. It would be a brave person to predict that they are likely to break the 5% threshold for the first time since 2002, so their route to re-entry is likely to be in Epsom. Certainly the good voters of Epsom have shown they are very smart and know how to vote tactically to ensure a centre-right Government. The danger for ACT may be that if it looks like National will have the numbers to govern alone, Epsom voters might think ACT is an un-necessary "luxury". If ACT manage to get five MPs back in, they should be very happy with that. Catherine Isaacs, Don Nicolson and David Seymour would all make good MPs who given the chance would expand ACT's appeal.
Finally we have the parties not in Parliament, but who want to be. Only two have any prospects of making it in - New Zealand First and the Conservative Party. The challenge for both parties is that they are very much competing for the same voters - socially conservative, even authoritarian - and economically nationalist in the Muldoon style.
One should never write Winston off entirely, but my instincts at this time of massive global economic turmoil are that New Zealanders are looking for stable Government and of the many things Winston is, stability is not one of them.
Even less likely is that the Conservatives will make 5% this time, and Colin Craig's claims to be leading in Rodney should be taken with a dose of scepticism until one sees poll results from a non-interested party. If Craig spends $3 million of his own money though on the Conservatives campaign, it may boost their party vote. Personally I think the better opportunity for the Conservatives is to wait for New Zealand First to die (as it inevitably will if Peters does not make it back this time) and then try and soak up their remaining supporters so they can make 5% in 2014.
So my pick, at this stage, is that seven of the eight parliamentary parties will be back, and no new party will enter Parliament. However that doesn't mean they will all have the same number of seats as they do currently - we still have an election campaign to get through to safely make predictions there.
* David Farrar is a centre-right blogger and affiliated with the National Party. A disclosure statement on his political views can be found here.