In the elections, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern could strengthen her government or face further challenges from conservatives led by Judith Collins.
New Zealanders began voting on Saturday in a general election that saw Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern bolster her left-wing stance on the government or a challenge from conservatives led by Judith Collins.
Labor leader Ardern, 40, and National Party leader Collins, 61, are the faces of the elections to the country’s 53rd parliament, a referendum on Ardern’s three-year term.
The polling station doors opened at 9 a.m. local time on Saturday (8 p.m. GMT Friday), despite a record number of voters having cast their ballots in advance.
There will be restrictions on media coverage of the race until the polls close at 7:00 p.m. (6:00 a.m. GMT). Thereafter, the electoral commission is expected to start publishing preliminary results.
More than 1.7 million ballots had been cast by Friday, almost half of the 3.5 million or so New Zealanders on the electoral roll.
The election was originally scheduled for September 19, but was delayed by a virus outbreak in Auckland that has now been contained.
A poll released the Friday before the polls found that support for Ardern’s party has declined, but it would still be enough for it to rule alone.
The Newshub-Reid poll found that support for Ardern’s party was 45.8 percent, 4.3 percentage points lower than the last poll. The opposition National Party was 31.1 percent, 1.5 percentage points higher.
In the meantime, special votes, including ballots from overseas New Zealanders and those voting outside their constituencies, will not be released until November 6th.
New Zealanders are also voting on referendums to legalize euthanasia and marijuana. The latter vote could make New Zealand the only third country in the world, after Uruguay and Canada, that allows the nationwide use and sale of cannabis by adults.
The results of the referendums will be announced on October 30th.
New Zealand switched to a proportional mixed membership system in 1996, in which a party or coalition needs 61 of the 120 seats in parliament – usually around 48 percent of the vote – to form a government.
This means that smaller parties often play an influential role in determining the government of the large parties.