The Right to Vote

New Zealand's first parliamentary elections were held in 1853. At first, not everyone had the right to vote. But over the next half century New Zealand was to become one of the most democratic nations in the world. poster-1851_001_2.jpg

After the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi and the establishment of British sovereignty in 1840, the colony was ruled by a Governor appointed by the British Crown. The growing ranks of European settlers resented the fact that they had no control over their own affairs and soon demanded self-government. They wanted to be able to elect their own representatives, who could pass laws and govern the colony.

In response, in 1852 the British Parliament passed the New Zealand Constitution Act. This established a General Assembly (Parliament) consisting of a Legislative Council appointed by the Crown, and a House of Representatives, which was to be elected every five years. Each of the six Provinces was also given its own elected Provincial Council and a Superintendent.

Not surprisingly, the main features of New Zealand's political culture and electoral system were inherited from Britain. There, in the mid-nineteenth century voting was generally not thought of as an individual right, but as a 'privilege' or 'trust' that certain people in society (basically those who possessed property) should exercise on behalf of everyone else.

In England in the 1850s only about one in every five adult men was entitled to vote, and in Scotland one in eight. Of course, women - Queen Victoria aside - had no place in politics.

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Last updated: 21 February 2013