The mood at the election headquarters of New Zealand’s Green party was triumphal, almost as though the party had won the election outright. The election result was everything they hoped for and perhaps more than they expected.
Just a few weeks ago, polls had the party below the 5% threshold that would trigger proportional representation and deliver it to parliament if none of its candidates won an electorate seat.
Its best chance for the latter was its candidate in Auckland Central, Chlöe Swarbrick, but she was trailing in third in the polls.
On the night, voters returned to the party, delivering it 7.6% of the party vote and Swarbrick a narrow victory in a seat held by National, the main opposition party. It was the first electorate win for a Green candidate since 1999.
While well below the peak of its popularity – the Greens won 11% of the party vote in 2011 – the jubilation among party supporters had the edge of people who feared the gallows but ended up with a bouquet.
“We are stronger at the end of our first term in government than we were at the beginning,” co-leader James Shaw told the crowd. “We defied the odds. We made history.”
It is set to add at least two MPs to the eight it gained at the previous election.
“It’s so great, it’s a vote for New Zealand’s youth,” said Green faithful Suzanne Kendrick. “Look at the room – young, vibrant and interesting people. It’s time to move on from middle-aged people trying to hold on to the past.
“And it’s a victory for the whole world, for liberal democracy, for those who believe in that sort of government and in the environment too.”
While Labour could rule alone, Shaw is confident the Greens will be included to make use of their ministers’ specific experience, to bolster the new government’s majority and to build their partnership for the future.
“We want to win again in 2023,” Shaw told the Guardian.
On Sunday prime minister Jacinda Ardern refused to comment on whether she would invite the Greens into government, but said she had spoken to co-leader James Shaw already, and talks would proceed “swiftly” over the coming weeks.
Ardern said it would take two to three weeks for a government to be declared, because there were half a million special votes still to be counted.
The Greens have been around since 1990. A few of its members became MPs in the early 1990s as part of the Alliance party, an amalgamation of four small parties, but it entered parliament as a stand-alone party in 1999 when it gained more than 5% of the party vote.
Since then the party has consistently scored the biggest share of the vote of the minor parties and became part of a government for the first time in 2017 after pledging to give confidence and supply support to the Labour-NZ First coalition.
The Greens are as much focused on social equity as on the environment and have pushed for New Zealand to become carbon neutral by 2050 and to reduce inequality by increasing benefits and funding to other social services.
Like many countries, New Zealand has responded to Covid-19 by stimulating the economy through massive spending, which has wiped out its budget surplus.
The Greens want to increase the tax take by introducing a “wealth tax”, but Ardern has stated that won’t happen in a government she leads.