23 Nov 2011

Small parties find voice despite campaign 'sideshows'

8:21 pm on 23 November 2011

Leaders of small parties not represented in Parliament say they have been able to get their policies publicised despite a muddled general election campaign.

One party says it received a boost of publicity just at the right time and from a very unlikely supporter.

In September, ACT leader Don Brash called for the decriminalisation of cannabis - an opinion not shared by the rest of his party - bringing to the fore the main policy of the Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party.

Leader Michael Appleby says many other politicians agreed with Dr Brash and conceded that the cannabis law should be reformed.

At the last election the Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party received 9,515 party votes - or 0.41% of the total votes counted.

A newcomer on the scene is the Conservative Party whose leader, Colin Craig, says the major challenge has been the short campaign period and the tea tape controversy that has taken up a disproportionate amount of media attention.

"I think the challenge has been to get people's heads back into thinking about 'who am I going to vote for?'

"What we understand ... is that there's still a huge number of undecideds, which is good for us because we're expecting a fair share of those on election day."

Mr Craig says a nationwide pamphlet drop has resulted in positive feedback from a wide cross-section of voters.

In the 2008 election, the Libertarianz received 1,176 party votes (0.05%).

The party's leader, Richard McGrath, says in order to get their policies heard by voters, they had to accept tax-payer funding for television advertisements.

He said accepting the money went against the grain, but election rules stated the only way to advertise on television was to use the funding.

"We would gladly have paid our own money to advertise on TV but we weren't allowed to.

"If you don't advertise no-one knows you and you don't get the brand out there, so we had to kind of hold our nose and take the money."

In the 1981 election, Social Credit scored 21% of the vote, while in 2008 the Democrats for Social Credit received 1,208 votes - or 0.05% of the total.

Its leader, Stephnie de Ruyter, says smaller parties not in Parliament always have a tough time getting their messages out and during this campaign, she says, there seemed to be more than the usual sideshows.

"That's really frustrating because there are some really big issues facing New Zealand, particularly economic issues, and some of those big issues are being overlooked."

The Alliance once had 13 MPs but at the last election they received just 1,909 party votes.

Co-leader Kay Murray says one of the difficulties they faced was that voters associated Jim Anderton with the party, even though he left nine years ago.

But Ms Murray says with Mr Anderton's departure from politics this year, voters will not be so confused over who is in the party.

She says the party is hoping to win the Wigram seat, which she says has traditionally been an Alliance seat.

All the party leaders were positive about the campaign their members had been a part of, and said this election could come down to the wire.