Published: Sat, October 17, 2020

Election 2020: Labour takes massive lead as early vote results come in

Election 2020: Labour takes massive lead as early vote results come in

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and the Labour party have surged to a huge victory in New Zealand's general election.

Labour had garnered 49.2% of the votes, compared to about 27% for the opposition National Party led by conservative leader Judith Collins, with two-thirds of ballots tallied, according to the Electoral Commission.

Labour is out in front with 50.4 per cent of the party vote, well ahead of the National Party, which has just 26 per cent, with 14.3 per cent of the vote counted.

"And I say to everybody, we will be back".

© Mark Coote/Bloomberg via Getty Images Labour Party supporters watch results come in and wait for Jacinda Ardern to arrive during an election night event at Auckland Town Hall in Auckland, New Zealand, on October 17, 2020.

That result would give Labour 64 seats in the country's 120-seat parliament, an unprecedented majority under the country's current electoral system.

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.

Winston Peters' populist New Zealand First Party, which governed in coalition with Labour before the election, failed to win sufficient support to return to parliament.

The election was delayed by a month after new COVID-19 infections in Auckland, that led to a second lockdown in the country's largest city.

The election was originally scheduled for September 19, but it was postponed by a local coronavirus outbreak in Auckland that has since been contained. The country was one of the first to close its borders, and Ardern announced a nationwide lockdown in March when it only had 102 cases.

Ms Ardern had pledged to raise taxes on top earners, while Ms Collins promised short-term tax cuts, but they otherwise showed few major differences on policy. National will reemerge from this loss a stronger, more disciplined and more connected party.

She said everyone was living in an "increasingly polarised world", but she hoped this election had shown New Zealand that this was not who we were and that as a nation we can listen and debate.

A record number of voters cast early ballots in the two weeks leading up to the election.

Lara Greaves, a New Zealand politics lecturer at the University of Auckland, said the high level of advance voting may have been related to Covid-19 - voters wanted to avoid lines and the possibility that a fresh Covid-19 outbreak could impact their ability to vote on the day. Within a year, she had given birth in office - only the second world leader ever to do so.

Although once famously declaring that as kingmaker he was not seeking the "baubles of office", he has been deputy prime minister twice, filled in as acting prime minister and was known on the worldwide stage from serving as foreign minister from 1996-98 and with the Ardern government.

Ardern, 40, has received praise for her handling of the coronavirus pandemic and her response to the Christchurch mosque shootings.

Ardern again found herself comforting a shocked nation when a volcanic eruption at White Island, also known as Whakaari, killed 21 people and left dozens more with horrific burns.

Kiwis voted in two referenda on Saturday - to legalise cannabis and, separately, euthanasia - but these results won't be confirmed until next month. "This is our opportunity to take on poverty and inequality".

"I want to congratulate Jacinda Ardern and her team on an extraordinary win", she said.

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