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Winston Peters

The Rt. Hon. Winston Raymond Peters (born April 11, 1945) leads the New Zealand First political party.

There is considerable debate as to how the politics of Winston Peters should be classified. The terms radical centrist, nationalist, and populist are among the more common descriptions applied to him. He typically distrusts the corporate world (a fact sometimes used to classify him as left-wing), but is strongly conservative in his social policy (sometimes used to classify him as right-wing). Perhaps his most notable policy in recent years has been his campaign against immigration, causing some to claim that "nationalist" describes him best (some critics say "racist", although Peters denies this).

Some observers, however, say that his policies do not follow any ideology at all, and claim that he simply attaches himself to whatever cause is popular. This view of Peters as a populist can be either a criticism or a compliment. According to some arguments, he is an opportunist, using his various crusades to keep himself in power. Other arguments, however, say that he is a genuine supporter of the people's interests, fighting for them against the machinery of central government and big business. This second view is probably the one which Peters himself most promotes - he frequently portrays himself as working for ordinary New Zealanders against an elitist and paternalistic government. Because of the MMP (Mixed Member Proportional) voting system in New Zealand, many see this populist appeal as the mainstay of his lengthy political survival.

Peters himself has had a controversial political career. At one time, he served as Deputy Prime Minister, but has more typically remained outside the government, and is known for being free with his criticism.

He was born in the town of Whangarei in 1945. He studied history, politics, and law at Auckland University, and has worked both as a teacher and as a lawyer.

He initially entered parliament under the banner of the National Party, being elected in 1978 as the MP for Hunua (an electorate in the Auckland area). He lost this seat in 1981, but in 1984, he successfully stood in the electorate of Tauranga.

After winning Tauranga, he became the National Party's spokesperson on Maori Affairs, Consumer Affairs, and Transport. In 1987, he was elevated to National's Front Bench, acting as spokesperson for Maori Affairs, Employment, and Race Relations. After National won the 1990 elections, Peters became Minister of Maori Affairs in the government of Jim Bolger.

While Peters was relatively popular with the public, he became increasingly disliked within his own party. Peters disagreed with the party leadership on a number of matters, and frequently spoke out against his party regarding them. While National could possibly have tolerated his difference of opinion, they were far less willing to accept his public criticism, which they regarded as undermining the party. Eventually, in October 1991, Bolger dismissed Peters from his cabinet position.

Peters remained as a National backbencher, continuing to criticise the party. In late 1992, when the National Party was considering possible candidates for the elections in the following year, it was decided that Peters would not be allowed to seek nomination for Tauranga. Peters successfully challenged this decision in the High Court, but in early 1993, he nevertheless chose to resign from the party and from parliament. This prompted a by-election in Tauranga, some months before the scheduled national elections. Winston Peters won this by-election easily, standing as an independent.

Shortly before the 1993 general elections, Peters established the New Zealand First party. In the election, Peters retained his Tauranga seat. Another New Zealand First candidate was also successful, helping to convince people that New Zealand First was not simply an extension of Winston Peters.

In the 1996 elections, the MMP electoral system delivered considerable success to New Zealand First. Neither the Labour Party or National were able to secure a majority in parliament without the backing of New Zealand First, leaving Peters virtually able to choose the next Prime Minister.

Despite appearing to promise during his campaign not to ally with National, Peters decided to enter into coalition with them. The price for his support, however, was high - Peters would become Deputy Prime Minister, and would have the position of Treasurer (senior to the existing Minister of Finance role) created especially for him. Initially, there were concerns about whether Peters would be able to work with Jim Bolger, the National leader who had previously dismissed him, but the two did not seem to have any major difficulties.

Later, however, tensions began to develop between Peters and the National Party. After Bolger's removal by Jenny Shipley, the problem worsened considerably. On 14 August 1998 Peters was sacked from cabinet again.

This prompted a collapse in New Zealand First, with some MPs following Peters out of the coalition and some breaking away from him. Peters established himself in opposition once again (where some say he performs best).

New Zealand First's ongoing problems caused it to perform badly in the 1999 elections, but Peters just kept his Tauranga seat. Still in opposition, he continued to promote his traditional policies, but also became more noticeably hostile to immigrantss.

In the 2002 election, Peters performed well once again, campaigning on three main issues - reducing immigration, increasing punishments for crime, and ending the "grievance industry" around Treaty of Waitangi settlements. This message regained much support for both Peters and his party, and Peters seemed to hope that Labour, in a position to form a government, would choose to ally with New Zealand First. However, Helen Clark, the Labour Party's leader, explicitly rejected this possibility, instead relying on support from elsewhere. This appeared to anger Peters considerably.

Peters remains in opposition.

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