New Zealand’s deputy PM Winston Peters has sided with the opposition to ask Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to postpone the country’s election.
A COVID-19 outbreak in Auckland, the country’s first in 102 days, prompted calls for Ms Ardern to delay the poll beyond the scheduled September 19 date.
Auckland’s COVID-19 cluster is yet to trend down, with New Zealand health authorities announcing 12 fresh community cases of the virus on Sunday.
The upswing from Saturday’s seven cases means the outbreak, NZ’s first after 102 virus-free days, stands at 49. A thirteenth case is an overseas traveller in quarantine
Mr Peters dramatically intervened in the debate just hours before Ms Ardern was due to announce her decision.
On Sunday afternoon, Mr Peters revealed he wrote to Ms Ardern on Friday asking for the election to be delayed, saying he held “real concerns about the state of preparedness of the Electoral Commission”.
Health first, politics second. pic.twitter.com/EJkttSxjdd
— Winston Peters (@winstonpeters) August 13, 2020
“Our health response must come first and politics second. That remains our view as the case numbers rise each day,” Mr Peters said.
“There is now no ability to conduct a free and fair election if the Prime Minister decides to hold the General Election on September 19.
“New Zealand First believes we risk undermining the legitimacy of the election result, creating an awful precedent which could be abused by the Prime Minister’s successors.”
Together, the opposition National party and Ms Ardern’s coalition partners New Zealand First, amounts to a parliamentary majority, which could force Ms Ardern’s hand.
Ms Ardern is due to announce her decision at 10am NZST (8am AEST) on Monday, ahead of the already once-deferred dissolution of Parliament.
The Labour leader announced September 19 as her chosen polling day back in February, before the arrival of COVID-19 in New Zealand.
Should she stick to her originally chosen polling day, National and NZ First are likely to cry foul, and may even take their grievances to the Governor-General.
Should she move the date out, Parliament will need to sit again and vote with a 75 per cent “super majority” to extend the current term beyond its existing legal framework.
— Ministry of Health – Manatū Hauora (@minhealthnz) August 16, 2020
National leader, and alternative prime minister, Judith Collins, said deferring the election to November, or even next year, was “the right and fair thing to do”.
“1.7 million New Zealanders are in lockdown at the moment and can’t go about their normal business. They’re worried about their health and their businesses,” she told TVNZ.
The Electoral Commission has stated it can run the poll safely under alert ‘level two’ conditions – which include social distancing and caps on gatherings.
Auckland is currently under a ‘level three’ lockdown, while the rest of New Zealand has been placed at ‘level two settings.
Both restrictions are due to expire on August 26.
That leaves just 10 days for parties to resume their campaigning in New Zealand’s biggest city and for the first advance polling stations to open.
Recent polling has Ms Ardern on track for a runaway victory, with both National and NZ First struggling.