Great Britain granted New Zealand self-government in 1853 and it remains a constitutional monarchy with the British king or queen, represented locally by the Governor-General, serving as head of state.
Like many Commonwealth countries, New Zealand is a Westminster system-based parliamentary democracy, through it abolished its upper house in 1950. Since 1996, New Zealand has had a form of proportional representation called mixed member proportional (MMP), under which a voter casts two votes: one for electoral seats (including some reserved for Maoris) and the other for a political party.
There are 70 seats, seven of which are Maori electorates. Elections are held every three years and for the last eight decades New Zealand politics has been dominated by the centre-right National Party and centre- left Labour Party. The leader of the political party that wins the greatest number of seats in a general election usually becomes the Prime Minister. The current Prime Minister is the National Party’s John Key.
Parliament and the general election
A term of Parliament in New Zealand may not last more than three years. Several parliamentary processes, laws, and conventions (established practices) ensure a smooth transition and provide safeguards for democratic process when an election has been called.
You can learn more about the New Zealand parliament and the electoral process on the New Zealand Parliament website.
There are three branches of the government in New Zealand:
- The Legislature (i.e. the House of Representatives), which debates and votes on new laws.
- The Executive, which is responsible for enacting and upholding the laws established by the legislature. Cabinet is the most senior policy-making body and is led by the Prime Minster, who is known as the head of government.
- The Judiciary. As is traditional in the Westminster model, there is a separation of powers between the Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary in New Zealand. The latter applies the law by hearing and deciding cases in the Supreme Court of New Zealand, the Court of Appeal, the High Court or the District Courts.
Local government and external territories:
While New Zealand has been divided into provinces since 1989, local government is organised in a two-tier system of 11 regional councils and 67 territorial authorities. Regional authorities concern themselves with larger-scale issues such as resource management while territorial authorities oversee building approvals, local roads, sewage and water.
While the degree of control the New Zealand government exercises in these places varies, those in the Cook Islands, as well as the islands of Niue and Tokelau enjoy New Zealand citizenship. New Zealand also lays claim to a part of Antarctica called the Ross Dependency and operates a research facility there.