Path: ICPP > ICPP 1980 > List of Countries --> New Zealand
Kenneth Janda
Political Parties: A Cross-National Survey
New York: The Free Press, 1980: pp. 225-226
NEW ZEALAND: The Party System in 1950-1956 and 1957-1962
(Text as published in 1980 citation above)

New Zealand was colonized by British settlers who overwhelmed the native Maoris and established a European dominated government and society. Parliamentary institutions were introduced into the country as early as the 1850s, but political parties did not appear until the end of the century, following the grant of adult male suffrage in 1879. The old Liberal Party held power from 1891 to 1912, when it was replaced by the Reform Party. The Labour Party was formally established in 1916, but the government remained in the hands of the Reform Party until 1928, when it was won by the United Party- a successor to the old Liberals. The Reform and United parties governed in a coalition from 1931 until 1935, and formally merged into the National Party in 1936. As a result of the depression, the Labour Party finally achieved power in 1935, and it remained in government until 1949.

Our time period begins with the National Party as a nonlabor government for the first time. Sidney Holland was elected prime minister in late 1949 and held office throughout the first half of our period. The National party held a clear majority in the House of Representatives (the only chamber of the New Zealand Parliament after the abolition of the upper house, the Legislative Council, 1950), and the National Party was opposed in Parliament by Labour in the typical model of two party politics. The leader of the opposition in Parliament was Walter Nash, who succeeded Peter Fraser upon his death in 1950.

The election of 1957 gave Labour a narrow majority Parliament, and Nash became prime minister, heading the first Labour government since the late 1940s. Holland, the former prime minister and leader of the National Party, had retired shortly before the 1957 election. Keith Holyoake was prime minister for a few months prior to Labour's victory in 1957 and then became the new leader of the opposition. Labour's victory was short lived, however, for the National Party was reed to power in the 1960 general election. Thereupon Holyoake and Nash switched roles, becoming prime minister and leader of the opposition respectively.

Continuity and Change since 1962

The graph of party representation since 1950 in the New Zealand House or Representatives suggests that New Zealand exemplifies the British model of two party government better than the United Kingdom (where minor parties have in recent years won enough seats to frustrate the easy creation of government majorities). In New Zealand, the two original parties in our study have accounted for nearly all parliamentary seats. None of the several smaller parties came close to qualifying for study.

Original Parties, Continuing

031 National Party. The National Party has governed New Zealand most of the time since 1950. Holyoake, prime minister since 1960, was succeeded by John Marshall in 1972 but only briefly, for the party lost the 1972 elections. Robert Muldoon, chosen as the leader of the National Party in 1974, became prime minister in 1975, when National recaptured the government. The 1978 elections returned Muldoon's government, but with a reduced majority.

032 Labour Party. Once before 1962 and once again afterward, the Labour Party became the government, but each time the party failed to win reelection to government. The second Labour government in our time period (and the third in New Zealand's history) was elected in 1972, when Labour leader Norman Kirk became prime minister. Kirk died in office in 1974, and Bill Rowling--his successor--was the Labour prime minister defeated in the 1975 election. Although Labour edged out the National Party in popular vote in the 1978 election, Labour failed to win a majority of the seats.


Simply put, the New Zealand party system has been quite stable over time. Party politics entering 1979 are very much like party politics in the 1950s. Even the surge in success of the Social Credit Political League; which won 16 percent of the vote in 1978, has parallels in 1954, when Social Credit won 11 percent, and 1966, when the party won 14 percent of the votes. to the operation of the electoral system, however, Credit captured no seats in 1954, and only one seat 1966 (in an 80-member parliament) and one seat in 197 (in a parliament enlarged to 92 seats). Assuming that electoral system remains the same, we can expect New Zealand to maintain its pattern of two-party politics indefinitely.

[For party politics in New Zealand since 1963, go to the essay by Michael J. Faber]

1. Our study of party politics in New Zealand is based on a file of 31 pages from 57 documents, all of which are in English (see Table ). The bibliographic search and indexing of material for the file was by Jean Jacobsohn. Carol Hodges coded both parties from information in our file, with help from Arthur Kallow on the Labour Party. Nigel Roberts was our outside consultant.