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NZ election: PM, opposition make last appeals for votes

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has urged voters to hand her and her governing centre-left Labour Party a strong mandate at Saturday’s general election.

In a Friday interview on Radio New Zealand, Ms. Ardern promised to provide the country a swifter recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

“If you want pace and speed, give us a strong mandate,” she said.

“If we genuinely want to make sure what we are doing on child poverty and on climate change isn’t just a three year burst, I have to make sure it’s sustained….  It took decades to create, I need more than three years to fix it,” she added.

Forty-year-old Ms. Ardern has campaigned on her record of eliminating COVID-19 in New Zealand but recent polls, including the last before Saturday’s vote, have suggested her Labour Party may need support from the minor Greens Party to form a government.

New Zealand’s mixed member proportional (MMP) voting system often results in a close race and coalition governments. Opinion polls suggest that Labour has a comfortable two-digit lead over the main opposition centre-right National Party, led by sixty-one-year-old veteran politician, Judith Collins.

In her own appeal to the electorate on Friday, Ms. Collins noted that a governing coalition of Labour and the Greens would be the first left-leaning government in more than a decade.  She warned voters such a scenario would mean more taxes and a business-unfriendly environment.

Ms. Collins has also said she is best placed to tackle New Zealand’s post-pandemic financial challenges.

Both leaders organised walkabouts across the country on Friday to woo undecided voters.

While life is back to normal within the country, its borders remain shut, with its key tourism sector in dire straits, and experts predicting a lasting recession.

On Thursday, Prime Minister Ardern raised the stakes in her final televised debate with Ms. Collins, vowing to quit politics if she loses the election.

Ms. Collins said she was hoping to win over the around 14% undecided voters.

However, some political observers have said an outright win by Ms. Ardern’s Labour cannot be discountenanced. In that case, it will become the first party in New Zealand to govern alone since the country switched to the MMP system twenty-four years ago.

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