Sean Keane: Kiwi general election enters final straight with market clearly favouring 3rd term for the government

Would-be Kiwi politician Kim Dotcom’s “moment of truth” passed with some concerning (but not unexpected) revelations about government spying activity in New Zealand. Despite the heavy press presence and the rather dramatic way in which the “evidence” was unveiled, there didn’t appear to be much that would have surprised the Prime Minister, or which will hurt him in the last few days of electioneering.

 Edward Snowden presented evidence that in his time at the NSA he was able to track data on NZ citizens with the assistance of the NZ Government Communications Security Bureau. This has been categorically denied by the Prime Minister, and by a former head of the GCSB. The PM’s tone on this has been very firm, and he appears confident of his footing on this matter. The strength of his rejection of these claims is likely to have been something that resonated with any voters that might have been wavering on this particular issue.

 In all likelihood all that the Dotcom jamboree did was cement voters pre-existing views on the merits and demerits of the Prime Minister and the National Party. Those who back John Key don’t necessarily want a big brother overview of their daily activities, but they acknowledge the realities of the modern world, and the need for some amount of government surveillance. They also believe that whether or not the NZ spy agencies carry out the task the NSA will do it themselves if they need to. The assumption with online activity anywhere is that it can be seen by someone who is determined to look.

 Opponents of the Prime Minister saw the revelations as confirmation of their views of the PM as an American lackey, and given his banking background, as someone who is not to be trusted. PM Key probably won’t lose any sleep over those claims as he was never going to get their support anyway and it was really about holding his own support steady, and not alienating the middle ground. Fortunately for the Prime Minister the very un-Kiwi Dotcom presentation style probably did more to lose the middle ground voter than the allegations against the Prime Minister.

 The last pre-election party leaders debate is due to take place tonight and the PM will no doubt be peppered with questions about the spying revelations. The Labour Party are so far behind National in the polls that the Labour leader has nothing to lose and will likely take a very aggressive approach on this issue. Naturally the Prime Minister will spend a good part of today preparing his response to the accusations, and the debate is likely to be quite a fiery affair. Key will maintain the same line of defence that no mass surveillance of NZ citizens has, or is, taking place and he will try and focus the discussion back on the main issues around the economy, taxes and growth. On these issues it is very difficult to criticize the government.

 Overall the “moment of truth” was not the political explosion that some had feared that it might be, and whilst there are serious allegations about spying activity the PM has not been derailed by this and it should not hurt his re-election chances assuming tonight’s debate is properly handled. What is more likely however is that this issue will come up again in future, and it will be a point of deeper focus in NZ – just as it should be.

As we draw closer to Saturday’s general election the opinion poll results will be published more frequently. Until then the latest “market” on the website has the National Party priced at an 85% probability of a win at Saturday’s election. This is the highest that it has been at any point during the campaign. 

Sean Keane of Triple T Consulting


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