The main election campaigns are starting to wind down against a background of what appears to be either apathy or indecision on the part of the electorate.
But it would not pay to hold your breath expecting a quick formation of a new government after Saturday.
As the full impact of the death of the ACT candidate in Port Waikato sinks in, it is possible we might not have a fully functioning government until December.
Advance voting is way below 2020 and only a little up on 2017.
It was forecast to be much higher than it is.
National Deputy leader Nicola Willis said in a message to supporters before the weekend that the party believed 400,000 would vote over the weekend.
In fact, only 214,806 did
That raises the possibility that we may see a very low poll on Saturday.
Labour are worried about that, which may be one reason why they are expected to produce a social media video shortly from Jacinda Ardern.
“She’s contacted me to indicate that she is intending to be very supportive in the last few days of the campaign,” Hipkins told media yesterday.
Professor Jack Vowles of Victoria University has suggested that in 2017 Ardern stimulated greater enrolment among younger people who identified with her relative youth.
Labour yesterday appeared to be directing its campaign very much at its base.
Hipkins was campaigning with a series of walkabouts in Wellington shopping malls and the Railway Station, and his audiences were largely supportive.
His mother and father even turned up at the Coastlands Mall, where he once had a University holiday job stacking bread on supermarket shelves.
But the bizarre chain of events in the Port Waikato electorate, where the ACT candidate has died and where electoral law now requires that there be a by-election, has started to focus minds on what might happen after election day.
Wellington lawyer and constitutional commentator Graeme Edgeler has submitted to Select Committees on how ridiculous the law is, but he has been ignored.
“This is a rule we really don’t need, and I’m guessing it’s a hangover from first past the post,” he wrote in 2011.
“Which, to be honest, doesn’t need it either. Given that you’re having an election anyway let people vote, and if the dead candidate wins, then have a by-election.”
But that won’t happen; instead, on Saturday, there will be no candidate election in Port Waikato, and instead, the Electoral Commission will use the complex St Lague formula to appoint an extra list MP.
The formula awards the list seats in a sequence.
At the last election, the first ten seats were allocated (in order) to Labour, National, Labour, Labour, National, Greens, ACT, Labour, Labour, National.
Without going into the statistical detail, one study made available to POLITIK would suggest that the closer the votes between the parties, then the likelihood that the list position could be given to either Labour or National increases.
Hipkins acknowledged this yesterday. And he suggested it could play a crucial role in deciding the government.
“Whoever gets the additional list seats are the ones who are most likely to benefit from this, and we won’t know that until all the votes have been counted, including all the special votes, because the way the formula for allocating amnesty and peace flows, it just really depends on who’s the last,” he said.
All of this, the closeness of the polls and the Port Waikato situation points to a possibly lengthy post-election negotiation period.
There will be a by-election in Port Waikato on November 25.
In an indication of how crucial that by-election might yet be, National wanted it earlier, but the Electoral Commission advised the Prime Minister that was not possible under the law.
Nevertheless, because the Governor General requires proof that the Government can command a majority in the Chamber, it is possible it might not be able to do that until after the by-election.
That could mean late November.
It would seem likely that if Labour gets to form the next government, it could get its support parties, the Greens and Te Paati Maori, together pretty quickly.
Those parties have been talking to each other on a regular basis for some months now, and Hipkins suggested yesterday they were ready to form a government.
He described their relationship during the campaign as “co-opetition.”
“I don’t think we would have a great degree of difficulty in finding plenty of common ground to form government,” he said.
“I’m sure there are going to be areas where we’re going to have good conversations and very constructive conversations if we’re in the position to be able to do that, but I’m confident we’ll be able to pull together a very positive, forward-looking government for New Zealand.”
It is a long shot, though, and the fact that Labour are not leaking polls tells you they are behind.
Within the National camp, it was business as usual as they wheeled out one of their favourite campaign promises, which was to set a target to increase exports.
Exports spokesperson Todd McClay promised to double the value of exports in ten years.
In 2012, the previous National Government, under its “Building Export Markets”, pledged to increase the contribution of exports to the economy from 30 per cent to 40 per cent of GDP by 2025.
Since then, that percentage has more or less consistently dropped to below 28 per cent.
The policy is an example of the difficulties National is going to have if it has to form a government with NZ First and ACT.
NZ First leader Winston Peters is a strong proponent of export growth but wants special tax concessions for exporters.
ACT does not have a specific exporters’ policy, but like NZ First and National, it supports free trade agreements. However, it favours a simplified tax structure.
Multiply a single policy item like that by 50 or so times, and the complexity of what the centre-right might need to accomplish becomes clear.
The Port Waikato by-election simply adds to that complexity and increases the odds that we might not have a functioning government until sometime in late November.