Saturday, November 8, 2008

New Zealand opposition wins poll

New Zealand opposition wins poll
John Key, leader of New Zealand's opposition National Party, campaigns in Auckland on 7 November
The National Party could have a majority with its allies

New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark has admitted defeat in a general election and says she will step down as leader of the Labour Party.

John Key's centre-right opposition National Party won 45% of the vote, against 34% for Labour, according to preliminary results.

Election officials say this will give National 59 seats, just short of the 61 needed for a majority in parliament.

The conservative win ends nine years in power for Mrs Clark and Labour.

National could look to the Maori Party to form a government, analysts say.

According to the official figures, John Key's National Party is set to win 59 seats, Labour 43 and their allies the Greens, with 6% of the vote, eight, in the 120-seat parliament.

"My job as leader of the Labour Party is complete. I will be standing down and I will be expecting my Labour Party colleagues to elect a new leader before Christmas," Mrs Clark told reporters.

The country's economic recession loomed large in the campaign. But few major policy shifts are expected once the new government takes over, analysts say.

Both Labour and National had promised tax cuts and extra spending, amid fears that the global credit crisis will hit New Zealand hard.

About three million people were registered to vote - a record number for the country - and early reports suggested turnout was high.

National's John Key, a multimillionaire former currency trader, tried to capitalise on the mood of change seen in the US, with the election of Barack Obama as president this week.

He insisted New Zealanders had an overwhelming desire for change.

Maori interests

Since the country introduced proportional voting in 1996, neither of the big parties has won an outright majority and they have always relied on the support of minor parties.

Labour leader Helen Clark campaigns in Auckland on 7 November
Helen Clark is one of the world's longest-serving elected female leaders

While National can look to allies in the centre and on the right, it may have to seek the backing of the Maori Party, which is expected to retain its four seats in the 120-seat parliament.

Among Maori demands are the repeal of a law preventing Maoris from claiming rights to the foreshore and seabed, and greater control over government spending on indigenous programmes to prevent waste.

"We'll decide totally based on... what we are able to advance for our people," said Maori Party leader Tariana Turia.

Any deal, she added, would "come at a cost".

Mr Key has said he will be willing to strike a deal with the Maori Party, even though he said his party "diametrically opposed" some of its policies.

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