Early count puts Bill English ahead in New Zealand election
Early vote counts tonight in New Zealand's general election showed Prime Minister Bill English's National Party ahead but not by enough to form a government without help from other parties.
Auckland: Early vote counts tonight in New Zealand's general election showed Prime Minister Bill English's National Party ahead but not by enough to form a government without help from other parties.
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 form a coalition.
Under New Zealand's proportional voting system, large parties typically must form alliances with smaller ones in order to govern. That means there is still a chance that English's main challenger, Jacinda Ardern, could get the top job.
With a little over one-third of the vote counted, the National Party was winning 46 per cent of the vote, Ardern's Labour Party was winning 36 per cent, the New Zealand First Party had 7 per cent and the Green Party 6 per cent.
Ardern had enjoyed a remarkable surge in popularity since taking over as opposition leader last month. The 37-year-old has been greeted like a rock star at large rallies and has generated plenty of excitement among her fans.
English, 55, ran a more low-key campaign, highlighting his experience and the economic growth the country has enjoyed over recent years. He's promising tax cuts for most workers.
Opinion polls indicate there was a swing back to English in the waning days of the campaign after Ardern had all the early momentum.
Voting ended at 7 pm today. 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. Election authorities made it easier for people to cast early votes, which they were able to do at certain polling stations up to two weeks before the election.
It also means that New Zealanders might find out the results quicker, because early votes were counted before the polls closed.
Sitting on his campaign bus as it rattled through some of New Zealand's struggling smaller towns this past week, English said Ardern had taken the nation by surprise and made him question himself.
"It tests your faith in your product and your faith in your approach," English said during a rare quiet moment between the frequent stops at cafes and main streets.
English enjoyed those low-key meet-and-greets, a contrast to the larger rallies Ardern held.
English said the polls had been volatile, and that small changes could have a big effect on the outcome.
"People have been changing their views very quickly, and I think the polls have reflected that," says English. "You've really taken what normally takes two to three years in a political cycle and telescoped it into six weeks."
Ardern laughed when asked if she ever expected to do as well as she has so far.
"You know what, I really didn't have any time to set any expectations," she said. "It was just hit the ground running, and run a campaign that was good enough to win."
At stake for both candidates is how to capitalise on New Zealand's growing economy.