Wellington : New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is on track to win Saturday’s general election in a landslide after the country eliminated coronavirus.
With polls closed and 30 per cent of votes counted, her centre-left Labour Party has won 50 per cent of votes, enough to comfortably secure a majority of seats in parliament.
The centre-right National Party has only 25 per cent of the vote, a disastrous result for the main opposition party which would be its second-worst tally in its 84-year history.
Voters have rewarded Ardern, 40, for her successful handling of Covid-19 after the country stopped the disease spreading with a short, harsh lockdown and border closures, allowing most of normal life to resume with only 1,883 cases and 25 deaths recorded.
Labour will likely not need help to govern but may anyway form an agreement with the Green Party – which is set to win about eight per cent of the vote and gain seats – in order to secure a left-wing ‘super-majority’.
The Greens and Labour are currently in a three-way alliance with nationalist party New Zealand First, which is on track to take only two per cent of votes and lose all its seats, putting leader and foreign minister Winston Peters out of parliament for the first time in 35 years.
Libertarian party ACT is due to win about seven per cent of votes and add nine seats to its current seat to become the fourth biggest party and junior opposition party.
Labour Party Deputy Leader Kelvin Davis said: ‘It’s looking positive but we won’t count our chickens before they hatch.’
Faced with Ms Ardern’s popularity and her widely praised handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, National Party Deputy Leader Gerry Brownlee said: ‘We always knew it was going to be tough.’
New Zealand has a mixed-member proportional system where parliament is made up of directly elected constituency MPs and also list MPs, the number of which is determined by party vote share.
New Zealand will get a new deputy prime minister and foreign minister after the end of maverick Winston Peters’ political career.
Early signs in the New Zealand election suggest Mr Peters’ party New Zealand First is on track to miss out on any seats in parliament.
After 31 per cent of the votes were counted, NZ First has just 2.3 per cent – well short of the five per cent threshold needed to return MPs.
Peters was first elected in 1979 as a National party MP, before leaving the centre-right party to found his own populist force.
It was the 75-year-old who ensured Jacinda Ardern would become prime minister back in 2017, deciding to back Labour over National after weeks of government negotiations.
However, support for his party has dissolved as Kiwis overwhelmingly backed Labour – which is set to win a parliamentary majority.
The thumping support for Ms Ardern’s party means Labour’s deputy leader – Kelvin Davis – will become deputy PM.
The foreign ministry will be also be vacated, likely to be filled by former leader Andrew Little or Trade Minister David Parker.
Polls on Friday gave Ms Ardern a double-digit lead over National, led by former lawyer Judith Collins, who is nicknamed ‘the Crusher’ over her 2009 plan to crush boy racers’ cars.
Ardern’s re-election was far from assured before the pandemic, amid criticism that her government has failed to transform the country despite an ambitious domestic policy.
But she has won international praise for her handling of a series of crises during her tenure, including the Christchurch terror attack in March 2019 and the White Island volcano eruption in December.
With a majority, Labor would be the first party to govern alone since New Zealand switched to a form of proportional representation in 1996.
Ardern has promised tax hikes on Kiwis earning over $180,000 to fund policies including free apprenticeships to help the economy recover after Covid-19.
The prime minister on Friday urged voters to deliver her a strong mandate, promising a swift recovery from the pandemic.
New Zealand is at the lowest level of restrictions with no limits on gatherings and social distancing merely a suggestion, allowing fans to return to sports grounds.
The election was postponed by a month after a new outbreak surfaced in Auckland, but this has since been quelled with no active cases in the community.
‘If you want pace and speed, give us a strong mandate,’ Ardern said in an interview on Radio New Zealand.