1943 General Election
Peter Fraser

Peter Fraser
Sidney Holland

Sidney Holland
John A. Lee

John A. Lee
Democratic Labour
Leader Since:
Leaders seat:
Wellington Central
Christchurch North
Grey Lynn
Last election:
53 seats
25 seats
2 seats[1]
Seats Won:
Popular vote:

The 1943 New Zealand general election was a nationwide vote to determine the shape of the Parliament of New Zealand's 27th term. With the onset of World War II, elections were initially postponed, but it was eventually decided to hold a general election in September 1943, around two years after it would normally have occurred. The election saw the governing Labour Party re-elected by a comfortable margin, although the party nevertheless lost further ground to the growing National Party.


The Labour Party had formed its first government after its resounding victory in the 1935 elections and had been re-elected by a substantial margin in the 1938 elections. Michael Joseph Savage, the first Labour Prime Minister, died in 1940; he was replaced by Peter Fraser, who was widely viewed as competent even if he was less popular than Savage. In the same year as Fraser took power, however, the opposition National Party had replaced their ineffectual leader Adam Hamilton with Sidney Holland, and was beginning to overcome the internal divisions that had plagued Hamilton's time as leader.

As World War II continued, the issues surrounding it naturally came to dominate political debate. Shortages appeared, prompting a certain amount of dissatisfaction with the government. The matter of conscription was also contentious — although both Labour and National supported it, many traditional followers of Labour were angry at their party's stance. Many early Labour leaders, including Fraser, had been jailed for opposing conscription in World War I, and were branded hypocrites for later introducing it; Fraser justified his change of position by saying that World War I was a pointless war but that World War II was necessary. A faction of Labour, dissatisfied with the mainstream party's economic and conscription policies, followed dissident MP John A. Lee to his new Democratic Labour Party.

The ElectionEdit

The date for the main 1943 elections was 25 September, a Saturday. Elections to the four Maori electorates were held the day before. 1,021,034 civilians and an uncertain number of serving military personnel were registered to vote — special legislation provided voting rights to all serving members of the armed forces regardless of age, and they voted over several days prior to 25 September. Among the civilian population, there was a turnout of 82.8%. The number of seats in Parliament was 80, a number that had been fixed since 1902.

There were three minor movements participating with 45 candidates: the People's Movement or Independent People's Group (25), the Real Democracy Movement (17) and the Fighting Forces League (3). However these groups got only 12,867 votes (provisional count: PM or IPG 7,389; RDM 4,421; Others or FFL 1,057 (0.89%, 0.53% & 0.13%). Two of the three Fighting Forces League candidates were also supported by the Real Democracy Movement, which had been formed by the Social Credit Association.

Two seats were uncontested: Awarua and Matarura. Both seats were held for the National Party by serving officers; James Hargest (Awarua) was interned in Switzerland, and Tom Macdonald (Mataura) had just been invalided home. Labour did not contest those two electorates or Nelson where Harry Atmore stood. National did not contest three electorates: Kaipara and Palmerston North where Independent Nationalists stood, or Buller. 1943 was the last general election where candidates were elected unopposed.

Election resultsEdit

The 1943 election saw the governing Labour Party retain office by a ten-seat margin, winning forty-five seats to the National Party's thirty-four, with one independent. The popular vote was considerably closer & Labour won 47.6%, while National won 42.8%. Holland was stunned by the result, and called for a Commission of Inquiry to look at the servicemens’ vote, but was answered by a report from the Chief Electoral Officer.

On the morning of election day, overseas counts from London, Ottawa and the Middle East indicated a majority for Labour, but domestic results coming in during the evening suggested to several government officials and even to Walter Nash that Labour would lose. By 10.30 pm only 35 of the 80 seats were certain for Labour, with Barclay (Marsden) defeated and even Nordmeyer (Oamaru) uncertain. But with 73,000 servicemens’ votes that came in during the day, Lowry (Otaki), Hodgens (Palmerston North) and Roberts (Wairarapa) scraped in. Over subsequent days with 60,000 special votes plus over 20,000 more servicemens’ votes, both Nordmeyer and Anderton (Eden) also scraped in. Fraser, who had campaigned among the troops, quipped that it was not only North Africa that the Second Division had saved.By 7 October, National's lead in four seats had been overturned by the services votes, and by 12 October, it was apparent that the result in six seats (Eden, Nelson, Oamaru, Otaki, Palmerston North and Wairarapa) had been overturned by the services vote.

John A. Lee's new Democratic Labour Party won only 4.3% of the vote, and no seats. Bill Barnard and Colin Scrimgeour were formerly on the Labour left. Barnard had left the Labour Party with John A. Lee but had fallen out with him and left Lee's Democratic Labour Party, standing as an independent. Scrimgeour stood as an independent against Prime Minister Peter Fraser in Wellington Central and polled well, reducing Fraser's majority so that Fraser only sneaked back on a minority vote.

Albert Davy the organiser of the Independent People’s Group (IPG) or People's Movement complained that the election was decided on "strictly party" lines, and said that the effect of the Democratic Labour Party standing was to give six seats to the National Party.

The election was also notable for the defeat of Apirana Ngata a renowned Māori statesman and member for Eastern Maori after 38 years in parliament, by Ratana- Labour candidate Tiaka Omana. Labour now held all four Māori seats and would continue to do so until 1993.

One independent was re-elected: Harry Atmore from Nelson, this was the last electoral victory by a candidate not from the major parties until the 1966 election. Atmore had the tactical support of Labour who (as in 1935 and 1938) did not stand a candidate against him, and he generally voted with Labour. The slight margin to National in Nelson on civilian votes was reversed by the service votes.


  1. Lee and Bill Barnard won their seats in 1938 as Labour candidates.
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