There is a date looming large on the horizon for the Government of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. The sort that every Government sees three months before an election. The unavoidable last Cabinet meeting before politicians start thinking about their election campaigns.
The date is 15 June, when the Government will have its last Cabinet meeting, before an even more important date comes up: the official entry into the pre-election period. In 2020 it is 19 June.
In just over a week, the Government will begin a potentially little known but important phase that happens in the run up to each election.
Many New Zealanders might not realize it but three months before an election date, the Government winds down some of its major functions. It means that major appointments and big campaigns are delayed. As Thomas Coughlan notes there are several important reasons for this:
- It makes little point to launch a long lasting campaign that is potentially going to turn into an election issue
- There is a matter of fairness involved in that arguably partisan advantage might be given to the incumbent Government by running a major campaign during election time
- One Government should not deliberately set out to hinder the following duly elected Government, which means appointing people who are sympathetic to a particular Government might be a hindrance to the new one
Not surprisingly there are critics. National Member of Parliament Gerry Brownlee believes that the Government’s COVID19 ads are questionable. In his case he is arguing that COVID19 ads are very much a part of the Prime Minister’s strategy. In particular the “Unite Against COVID19” advert, which is now being followed by a “Unite for the Recovery” advert.
What Mr Brownlee seems to be missing is that the Government has recognized a need for New Zealanders to continue working as part of a “team of 5 million”, for the economic recovery from COVID19. We cannot afford to return to old partisan economic ideals . New Zealand is in a tricky time at the moment with the closure of the border being a catch 22 situation that no one really knows how long it will go on for.
On one hand we need it to open so that tourists from overseas can start coming back to our attractions. We need to be able to resume regular freight flights into and out of New Zealand. On the other we need to be sure that we are ready for them. New Zealand needs to have a Plan B ready to go in case reopening the borders brings a second wave of COVID cases into the country. The tourism industry also need to have had some sort of reconciliation with the local market, which has made it clear that it felt unwelcome by virtue of being priced out.
Mr Brownlee probably knows all of this. But at the same time, the criticism is a reminder that bipartisanship goodwill will only go so far before critics start to push back against the Government. It might have survived COVID19 with a resounding pass, and the polls might currently be in favour, but the growing sound of partisan politics reviving, is a reminder that we have an election campaign coming and that the start of the pre-election period is only a bit more than a week away.