New Zealand’s ruling National Party has won the most votes in the country’s general election but not by enough to form a government without forming a coalition.
- National Party has been in power for almost a decade
- Labour’s Jacinda Ardern is vying to be NZ’s third female prime minister
- Early polling puts National ahead but suggests no outright winner
That means New Zealanders may need to wait for days or weeks before knowing who their next leader will be as the different political parties try to negotiate with each other to secure a majority.
With nearly all votes counted, the National Party was leading with 46 per cent, while support for Labour was 35.8 per cent, according to the Electoral Commission.
The nationalist New Zealand First Party had about 7.5 per cent of the vote so far, tipping it as a likely kingmaker.
With the campaign over, who will be the next prime minister of New Zealand could come down to the quirks of the MMP electoral system.
Speaking to supporters in Auckland, Prime Minister Bill English underscored that “just short of half of all New Zealanders voted National” but said it was clear his party could not form government alone.
Under New Zealand’s proportional voting system, large parties typically must form alliances with smaller ones in order to govern.
“As we go into negotiations with the intention of forming a stable government that enables this country to deliver for New Zealanders,” Mr English said.
“In the next few days we will begin discussions with New Zealand First, finding common ground, and, most importantly, taking on the responsibility of forming the kind of government that will enable New Zealand to get on with its success.”
“We don’t need to rush this process.”
That means there is still a chance Mr English’s main challenger, Labour’s Jacinda Ardern, could get the top job.
“Sometimes MMP [the mixed member proportional voting system] leaves us with an outcome that requires a little bit of extra work,” she said.
“I simply cannot predict at this point what decisions other leaders will make.”
Ms Ardern said it would be difficult to complete coalition talks before all votes were tallied.
Speaking outside her home in Auckland on Sunday (local time), Ms Ardern told media that her centre-left party would not concede, despite lagging almost 10 points behind the incumbent National Party, which received 46 per cent of the vote.
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Votes for the Green Party, which has a working agreement with Labour, reached 5.8 per cent.
Ms Ardern, the 37-year-old who only became Opposition Leader in August and dramatically improved Labour’s position in opinion polls, was vying to become New Zealand’s third female prime minister and the youngest in modern history.
She said she was “humbled by this election” and thanked volunteers for their help.
“On this night I pledge all my energies, my every waking moment to ensure that no matter where tonight’s result takes us, I am committed to a future we can all be proud of, a future that is better,” she said.
New Zealand First leader Winston Peters, who has been branded the election king or queenmaker by the NZ press, said on Sunday (local time) he had begun talks with members of his nationalist party about who to support in a coalition government, but declined to put a timeframe on a decision.
Mr Peters is in a position of power after Saturday’s vote, with the ruling National Party and the opposition Labour Party needing his party’s support to form a government under the nation’s proportional representation system.
“I’m doing it one-by-one by phone,” New Zealand First leader Winston Peters told reporters, adding that he had not received any calls from the National Party or the Labour Party about coalition talks and has not contacted them.
Asked by a reporter about how long he expected a decision to take, Mr Peters replied: “How long before I pick you up and throw you into the water over there?”
He noted that in some countries forming a government after a close election has taken months.
Mr English, who oversaw a disastrous election loss for the National Party in 2002, became leader last year after his predecessor John Key’s shock resignation.
His party has held power for almost a decade, since 2008.
Figures released by election authorities showed that a record 1.2 million people chose to cast their votes before election day.
That equates to about half of all the votes that were likely to be cast in the nation of just under 5 million people.
“Special votes”, which include ballots from New Zealanders overseas and those who vote outside their home constituencies, will be released on October 7.
These accounted for around 12 per cent of the vote in the 2014 election and could have a considerable impact.
There will not be a final result until these votes are counted.
“This has been an incredibly engaging and colourful campaign for New Zealanders,” Bryce Edwards, an analyst at Wellington-based Critical Politics, said.
“The most likely scenario is we are going to have to wait two weeks when the final verdict is in from the Electoral Commission.”
The day was eerily quiet until polls closed, with the election hardly featuring in domestic news due to stringent restrictions on campaigning on election day.
The tight outcome could weigh on the currency on Monday, analysts said.