New Zealand was originally discovered by the Polynesians who settled and developed the Māori culture. The first Europeans arrived in 1642 and in 1840 the country became part of the British Empire.
The first general election was held in 1853 and fought entirely by independents. From this point on the country, although part of the British Empire, gradually gained constitutional independence.
In 1867 the first Māori electorates were created and their general election took place in 1878. By 1890 the new country was pretty much formed and the first party political elections were held with the Liberal Party taking 40 of the 74 seats in the House of Representatives.
The Liberal Party held on to power until 1912. In 1914 the Reform party of William Massey won 41 of the 80 seats in the House of representatives. The Reform Party had been the largest party in 1911, but the Liberals held on with the support of independents until 1912 when the Reform Party had taken power.
Reform remained in power until 1928, with the Liberal Party going in to decline but the Labour Party growing stronger. In 1928 a splinter group of the Liberal Party renamed itself the United Party and won the election. In 1931 they joined forces with Reform and the two parties were to merge into what became the modern day National Party in 1936.
Meanwhile, in 1935 the Labour Party won and remained in power until 1949.
Since the Second World War the pendulum has swung between Labour and National. Labour have held power in 24 of the 65 years since 1946, whilst the National Party have held office in 42 of those years. Increasingly both parties have relied on coalitions with smaller parties.
Queen Elizabeth II is Head of State.
The unicameral House of Representatives has 122 seats of which 70 members are elected by popular vote in single member constituencies including 7 Maori constituencies and 52 proportional seats chosen from party lists; all serve three year terms.
The Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) 2016 places New Zealand in joint 1st place out of 176 countries with a CPI 2016 score of 90 (where 100 is least corrupt).