Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was on track to achieve an unprecedented outright majority in New Zealand’s general election Saturday after campaigning on her success handling the COVID-19 pandemic.
With 10 percent of the vote counted, Ardern’s centre-left Labour Party was on 49.9 percent, which would give it 64 seats in the 120-member parliament.
No leader of any political persuasion has achieved an outright majority since New Zealand adopted a proportional voting system in 1996, leading to a succession of multi-party governments.
While the figures are early, they exceed pre-election opinion polls and, if they remain consistent, would represent Labour’s strongest showing in decades.
Opposition leader Judith Collins’ centre-right National Party was on 26.0 percent, or 34 seats, and appears headed for its worst result in nearly 20 years.
Even if Ardern fails to gain a majority, support from existing coalition partner the Greens – on 8.4 percent or 11 seats – would easily get her over the line.
Ardern has dubbed the vote “the Covid election” and campaigned on her government’s success in eliminating community transmission of the virus, which has caused just 25 deaths in a population of five million.
“Who’s better placed to keep New Zealand safe and who’s better placed to get us on track to recovery?” she asked repeatedly on the campaign trail.
Another theme has been “sticking together in uncertain times”, highlighting the charismatic 40-year-old’s leadership qualities, not just during the pandemic but in a series of crises during her three years in office.
These include the Christchurch mosques shootings in March last year, when a white supremacist gunman killed 51 Muslim worshippers, and a volcanic eruption that claimed 21 lives last December on White Island, also known as Whakaari.
“No matter what crisis is thrown my way, you will always be assured I will give my everything to this job, even if that means a huge sacrifice,” she said this week.
Voters also cast ballots in two referendums, one on legalising recreational cannabis and the other on legalising euthanasia, although the results of those votes will not be known until October 30.
Meanwhile, special votes, including ballots from New Zealanders overseas and those who vote outside their home constituencies, will only be released on November 6.
New Zealanders are also voting on referendums to legalise euthanasia and recreational marijuana. The latter vote could make New Zealand only the third country in the world to allow the adult use and sale of cannabis nationwide, after Uruguay and Canada.
Results of the referendums will be announced on October 30.
New Zealand switched to a mixed-member proportional system in 1996 in which a party or coalition needs 61 of Parliament’s 120 seats – usually about 48 percent of the vote – to form a government.
This means minor parties often play an influential role in determining which major party governs.