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New Zealand by-elections

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Title: New Zealand by-elections  
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New Zealand by-elections

By-elections in New Zealand occur to fill vacant seats in the New Zealand Parliament. The death, resignation, or expulsion of a sitting electorate MP can cause a by-election. (Note that list MPs do not have geographic districts for the purpose of provoking by-elections – if a list MP's seat becomes vacant, the next person on his or her party's list fills the position.) Historically, by-elections were often caused by general elections being declared void.



Under the By-election Postponement Act 1969.

In recent years by-elections have not occurred particularly frequently – only one in the 2002–2005 parliamentary term, and none in the 1999–2002 or 2005–2008 terms. This is because most MPs who retire mid-term (e.g. Labour MPs Jim Sutton and Michael Cullen) were List MPs, so are simply replaced by the next member below them on their party list (unless that person is already an electorate MP, or does not agree). Some MPs have entered Parliament when two or more people above them on the list have declined, sometimes after pressure from their party: in 2008 Dail Jones (New Zealand First) and Russel Norman (Green); and in 2011 Louisa Wall (Labour) after five above her on the list declined.

Historically, however, they have taken place considerably more frequently – the 2nd Parliament of 1856–1860, for example, saw 33 by-elections and four supplementary elections, despite the House of Representatives originally having just 37 seats (increasing to 41 seats during the parliamentary term).

In the past it was not uncommon for an MP who died in office to be replaced with an immediate family member such as a brother, wife (see widow's succession), or son. This resulted in the election of the first woman MP Elizabeth McCombs (who was in turn succeeded by her son Terence McCombs), the first woman National MP Mary Grigg, and the first woman Māori MP Iriaka Ratana; all of whom took over their husband's seat. This practice has however fallen out of favour since the mid-seventies with the election of John Kirk to his late father's seat being the last occasion this happened at a by-election.

Eleven Prime Ministers first came to parliament via by-elections: Julius Vogel, Harry Atkinson, Robert Stout, John Ballance, William Massey, Peter Fraser, Keith Holyoake, Walter Nash, Bill Rowling, David Lange and Geoffrey Palmer. Five Prime Ministers (William Fox, Henry Sewell, Edward Stafford, George Grey and Joseph Ward) have won by-elections later in their parliamentary careers, while Labour leaders Harry Holland and David Shearer were also first elected via a by-election. Some minor party founders have also launched their parties by resigning from a major party and their seat, then contesting it for their new party. Party founders who have done this include Matiu Rata and Tariana Turia. Interestingly, both resigned from Labour to form Māori parties. In 1980 Rata was unsuccessful in retaking his Northern Maori electorate for his newly formed Mana Motuhake party, but in 2004 Turia successfully reclaimed Te Tai Hauauru for the Māori Party. In addition, Winston Peters resigned from National and his parliamentary seat in 1993, retaking the seat as an independent and going on to form the New Zealand First party. In these circumstances, by-elections are seen as a legitimisation of the MP's rejection of his or her old party. In addition, they provide vital publicity and something of a mandate for the new party.

Pre-party era

By-election and electorate Date Incumbent Reason Winner

1st Parliament (1853–1855)

2nd Parliament (1855–1860)

3rd Parliament (1861–1865)

4th Parliament (1866–1870)

5th Parliament (1871–1875)

6th Parliament (1876–1879)

7th Parliament (1879–1881)

8th Parliament (1882–1884)

9th Parliament (1884–1887)

10th Parliament (1887–1890)

Liberal Party era


Electorate and by-election Date Incumbent Cause Winner

11th Parliament (1891–1893)

12th Parliament (1894–1896)

13th Parliament (1897–1899)

14th Parliament (1900–1902)

15th Parliament (1903–1905)

16th Parliament (1906–1908)

17th Parliament (1909–1911)

Multi-party era


Electorate and by-election Date Incumbent Cause Winner

18th Parliament (1912–1914)

19th Parliament (1915–1919)

20th Parliament (1920–1922)

21st Parliament (1923–1925)

22nd Parliament (1926–1928)

23rd Parliament (1929–1931)

24th Parliament (1932–1935)

25th Parliament (1936–1938)

Two-party era


Electorate and by-election Date Incumbent Cause Winner

26th Parliament (1939–1943)

27th Parliament (1943–1946)

28th Parliament (1946–1949)

29th Parliament (1950–1951)

30th Parliament (1951–1954)

31st Parliament (1955–1957)

32nd Parliament (1958–1960)

33rd Parliament (1961–1963)

34th Parliament (1964–1966)

There were no by-elections during the term of the 34th Parliament.[1]

35th Parliament (1967–1969)

36th Parliament (1970–1972)

37th Parliament (1973–1975)

38th Parliament (1976–1978)

39th Parliament (1979–1981)

40th Parliament (1982–1984)

There were no by-elections during the term of the 40th Parliament.[1]

41st Parliament (1984–1987)

42nd Parliament (1987–1990)

There were no by-elections during the term of the 40th Parliament.

43rd Parliament (1990–1993)

44th Parliament (1994–1996)

MMP era


Electorate and by-election Date Incumbent Cause Winner

45th Parliament (1997–1999)

46th Parliament (2000–2002)

There were no by-elections during the term of the 46th Parliament.

47th Parliament (2003–2005)

48th Parliament (2006–2008)

There were no by-elections during the term of the 48th Parliament.

49th Parliament (2009–2011)

50th Parliament (2011 – present)


External links

  • Electoral Act 1993 (sections 129-133 refer to by-elections]
  • Paraire Karaka Paikea)
  • Ralph Hanan)

See also

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