Mark it in your diary – New Zealand will go to the polls on 23 September. That Saturday has been the most widely-picked date, and will take place almost three years to the day since the 2014 election. Before he resigned as Prime Minister, John Key dropped hints about a September election. Bill English has stuck to that timetable. To go much earlier would have opened the party up to criticism it was panicking, and that it feared Mr English could not hold, or attract, the attention of voters for that many months. He will want to give himself as much time as possible to settle in as Prime Minister, and have as many photo opportunities as possible with world leaders at international events, all of which helps build the “prime ministerial” image.
Political parties get punished for going to the polls too early without a good reason, and, alongside the risk of lower turnouts, there is little enthusiasm among politicians to be out and about during an election campaign braving winter rain and wind. Opposition parties would have started their planning around a September election, so they would not have been caught off balance.
In fact, while Mr English was still in his media conference and only minutes after he had named the date, Labour put out a media release “Bring it on – we’re ready to fight for what matters”, obviously pre-written and ready to go.
They and the Greens will want to use the next seven months to boost leader profiles and hope the government will be hurt by scandal and voter fatigue with a third-term National Party.