New Zealand’s main opposition National Party has taken a strong lead in early election counting as it seeks to wrest power from the ruling Labour Party.
(Bloomberg) — New Zealand’s main opposition National Party has taken a strong lead in early election counting as it seeks to wrest power from the ruling Labour Party.
With 20% of votes tallied, National had just under 42% while Labour trailed on 26%. Among minor parties, the Greens had 10% support and ACT New Zealand was on 9%. New Zealand First, which may play a key kingmaker role in the formation of a center-right government, had 6%. The Electoral Commission aims to have preliminary results from 95% of voting places by 11:30 p.m. local time.
New Zealand’s proportional representation electoral system lends itself to coalitions. Opinion polls this week showed both the center-right and center-left blocs needing the support of the nationalist New Zealand First Party to reach a majority and form a government. However, Labour and New Zealand First have refused to work with each other, making a center-right administration led by National Party leader Christopher Luxon the most likely outcome.
Prime Minister Chris Hipkins has struggled to convince New Zealanders that Labour deserves a third term as the economy stutters amid a cost-of-living crisis. But National has also failed to excite voters with its alternative vision, which has seen some of its supporters turn to New Zealand First, led by the maverick Winston Peters.
Ousted from parliament at the last election in 2020, New Zealand First is above the 5% threshold required to return to parliament. Should National and ACT fall short of a majority between them, 78-year-old Peters would once again hold the balance of power and become the kingmaker, a role he has played before during his 44-year political career.
The cost of living has dominated the election campaign, with Labour pledging to remove a sales tax from fruit and vegetables and National promising tax cuts to ease pressure on household budgets. But neither of the two major party leaders has electrified voters the way former prime minister Jacinda Ardern did at the last two elections.
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Ardern is the only leader to secure an outright majority since New Zealand switched to a proportional representation electoral system in 1996.
Should the election play out as polls predict, National, ACT and New Zealand First will need to enter negotiations to agree on a governing arrangement, which could take several weeks. ACT and New Zealand First would both expect policy concessions and ministerial posts in return for their support.
While the final shape of a new government will determine which policies are implemented, all three parties on the right have campaigned on cutting government spending, getting tougher on criminals and welfare beneficiaries, and halting moves to give indigenous Māori a bigger role in decision-making on local authorities.
All three also favor farmer-friendly policies, and could be expected to delay plans to tax agricultural greenhouse gas emissions.
But there are also disagreements, not least over National’s flagship tax-cuts plan that would be partially funded by removing a ban on the sale of expensive homes to foreigners and collecting a levy on each transaction.
Complicating matters, Peters and ACT leader David Seymour have a history of acrimony and have been openly hostile toward each other. Seymour has said he doesn’t trust Peters.
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