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Constitutional

The Governor-General's role in a General Election

Issue date: 
Tuesday, 12 September 2017
Speaker: 
The Rt Hon Dame Patsy Reddy, GNZM, QSO

Role of the Governor-General in a General Election

At least once every three years, the Prime Minister announces the date for an election. Governors-General play a significant constitutional role in the election process.

First, the parliamentary term must be brought to an end. The Governor-General issues a proclamation dissolving Parliament, and it is read publicly on the steps of Parliament by the New Zealand Herald of Arms Extraordinary. This year, that ceremony took place on the 22nd of August.

The Governor-General then issues the Writ for the general election, acting on the advice of the Prime Minister. The Writ instructs the Electoral Commission to hold a general election. This year, I issued the Writ on the 23rd of August, for the general election on the 23rd of September. 

When I dissolved Parliament, I also set a date for it to meet again, to ensure continuity.  However, if the newly elected government decides that Parliament should meet earlier than that date, I will issue a new proclamation.

The Governor-General does not have a role to play during an election campaign; it is up to candidates and political parties to persuade New Zealanders to vote for them. Once the result of the election is known, politicians negotiate amongst themselves to form a government.

Governors-General are not involved in those negotiations. The formation of a government depends on one or more parties being able to show they will have a majority in the House of Representatives – that they have “the confidence of the House”. 

My role as Governor-General is to see where the confidence of the House lies, so that a government can be appointed. In making this determination I will look for both “quantity” and “clarity” in the public statements made by the party leaders. “Quantity” refers to a government being able to show it will have enough votes to succeed in a vote of confidence in the House. “Clarity” means clear and public statements by the party leaders about their intentions on matters of confidence.

For example, two or more party leaders might state publicly that they are entering into a coalition agreement to form a majority government.  Alternatively, party leaders might announce that a minority government will govern, with support from another party or parties on confidence and supply votes in the House. To date, coalition and support arrangements under MMP have always been set out in formal documents and I would expect that practice to continue.

Once it is clear who has the confidence of the House and can therefore form a new government, the Governor-General appoints the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister recommends the appointment of other Ministers, and a ceremony is held to formally establish the new government.

The Governor-General summons the new Parliament on the advice of the newly appointed Prime Minister, and the new government has the opportunity to show that it has the confidence of the House.

I look forward to playing my part in the post-election events. But for the moment, the most important role belongs to New Zealand voters across the country, because by exercising their democratic rights they will help determine who will govern our country.

Former Governor-General Sir Jerry Mateparae gives his thoughts in this speech

Last updated: 
Tuesday, 12 September 2017

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