News World New Zealand polls open as record numbers of voters cast ballots in advance
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New Zealand polls open as record numbers of voters cast ballots in advance

NZ Prime Minister Bill English
Prime Minister Bill English and wife Dr Mary English cast their votes at Asteron Tower in Wellington two days before the general election. Photo: Getty
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Voting is underway in the New Zealand general election as a record number of voters cast their ballots in advance to choose the make up of the country’s 52nd parliament on Saturday.

Polling booths opened at 9am (local time) in what is being described as a close-run race between the National Party’s incumbent Bill English, 55 and the centre-left Labour Party’s recently appointed youngest-ever opposition leader Jacinda Adern, 37.

Volatile opinion polls have shown a neck-and-neck race towards Saturday’s vote, although the ruling National Party of Mr English has led in recent polls.

A change in the Labour Party leadership last month turned what had been expected to be a dull campaign into a nail-biting event, with Ms Ardern vying to become the nation’s third female prime minister.

jacinda ardern
On the campaign trail, Ms Ardern takes a selfie during a visit to Christchurch’s Addington School.

“It’s tight,” Ms Ardern, whose popularity prompted media to coin the term “Jacindamania”, said on Friday, a day when she also attended her grandmother’s funeral.

“It shows that every single vote will count and that turnout will determine this election,” she said.

Mr English, a former finance minister who took over after John Key’s shock resignation last year, is making his second bid to be elected leader after a failed attempt in 2002.

Voting will end at 7:00pm (local time) and the country’s Electoral Commission will start releasing results 30 minutes later.

About 986,000 ballots have already been cast, accounting for almost a third of the 3.2 million New Zealanders on the electoral rolls.

“Special votes,” which includes ballots from New Zealanders overseas and those who vote outside their home constituencies, will only be released on October 7.

These could have a considerable impact on the outcome, given New Zealand’s large diaspora, and accounted for about 12 per cent of the vote in the 2014 election.

New Zealand uses a German-style proportional representation system in which a party, or combination of parties, needs 61 of Parliament’s 120 members — usually about 48 per cent of the vote — to form a government.

On the eve of the election, the NZ Herald Election Forecast predicted National would win 56 seats while a Labour-Green coalition would win 54.

This means that minor parties often play an influential role in determining which major party governs.

Mr English said on Friday he would try to form a government even if Labour and the Greens received more support than National on Saturday night.

He would act on the presumption the party with the highest vote should form government.

— with AAP