POWER PLAY with Brent Edwards

7:20 am on 13 June 2014

Political parties are emphasising pragmatism, not principle, as the election draws nearer.

The election is just over three months away and most of the political parties are doing, or considering doing, deals to strengthen their positions.

For the minor parties that have no hope of reaching the 5 percent party vote threshold needed to win seats in Parliament, it is all about seeking the patronage of their heavyweight allies to ensure they win or retain an electorate seat.

Most of that deal making is happening on the right of politics, with National considering making accommodations with United Future in Ohariu, ACT in Epsom and with the Conservative Party in a seat on Auckland's North Shore.

On the other side of politics, Hone Harawira's Mana Movement has already cosied up to the Internet Party. For Mana it is all about getting more money for its campaign. For the Internet Party it is all about using the coat-tail provisions of electoral law to get at least one MP into Parliament on the back of Mr Harawira retaining his Te Tai Tokerau seat.

Hone Harawira and Laila Harre.

Hone Harawira and Laila Harre. Photo: RNZ / Kim Baker Wilson

The two parties will campaign separately in electorate contests but will campaign for the party vote as the Internet-Mana Party. There is no guarantee they will stick together after the election.

That deal is probably the most cynical exploitation of the law in an effort to get an Internet MP elected. Despite its hype, the party has no confidence it can, on its own account, win enough support to reach the 5 percent party vote threshold needed to get representation in Parliament or win an electorate seat.

Both Mr Harawira and the Internet Party's unelected leader, Laila Harre, have argued if the Right is doing deals the Left should follow suit. In other words pragmatism trumps principle every time.

What is most ironic about Internet-Mana's position is that it says it aims to win support from disengaged voters - those people who are no longer voting because they are disenchanted with politics.

Strangely enough, the two parties are engaging in the sort of cynical politics which has turned off so many voters.

They have also made it clear they believe the Labour Party should help by making life easier for Mr Harawira in Te Tai Tokerau.

Leader of the Labour Party David Cunliffe.

Leader of the Labour Party David Cunliffe. Photo: RNZ

But Labour leader David Cunliffe says his party will make no deals and its candidate in the seat, the new list MP Kelvin Davis, is intent on winning it back for Labour.

Mr Cunliffe, meanwhile, denounces National's deal making and has challenged Prime Minister John Key to change the law now to stop parties exploiting the coat-tailing provisions of electoral law. Under those provisions a party can get extra MPs, even if it falls short of the five percent party vote threshold, as long as it wins an electorate seat.

It is that provision which Internet-Mana is attempting to exploit.

Despite his reservations Mr Cunliffe will, however, turn to Internet-Mana after the election if he needs its support to form a government. Opposition to what he sees as the abuse of the coat-tailing provisions will not stop Mr Cunliffe making a pragmatic political decision.

John Key

Prime Minister John Key Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

Mr Key has no such reservations about the deal making that occurs under MMP. Political pragmatism has always been the mark of his leadership.

His argument is simple. National is likely to need allies to form a government after the election and he is prepared to do what it takes to make sure they actually get elected. That is why deals are certain to be done with both United Future and ACT, and probably the Conservatives.

While both United Future and ACT failed to win enough party vote support to get any extra MPs into Parliament at the last election, they have managed to do it the past.

From National's perspective, if they fail to win their seats their vote would be lost to the centre-right cause. That would likely mean the difference between National having enough support to govern or not.

In National's worst nightmare, it wins by far the largest share of votes of any single party but is unable to govern because it does not have enough support parties in Parliament.

When the objective of any party is to win power, principle always falls victim to pragmatism. This election will be no different.

But is the pragmatic - some would say cynical - approach to politics adopted by most parties doing more harm than good to public confidence in the political process?

Individual parties might indeed benefit from the deals they make. In the end, though, fewer and fewer New Zealanders voting will undermine the democracy the political parties say they so keenly support.

Follow Brent Edwards on Twitter @rnzgallerybrent