New Zealanders head to the polls on October 14 for the country’s general elections.
Here’s what you need to know about the main candidates and the key issues:
When do the polls open?
Voting will start on Saturday at 9am local time (Friday at 20:00 GMT) and close at 7pm (06:00 GMT).
However, early voting began on October 2 and more than a million people have already cast their ballots.
How does the election work?
General elections are held every three years in New Zealand using a mixed-member proportional (MMP) voting system. New Zealanders will cast two votes at the ballot box, one for their local district representative and one for their party of choice.
The MMP system makes it hard for one party to win a majority of the seats because it gives seats in the House of Representatives to parties based on total votes, often leading to no single party getting more than half of them.
However, the election in 2020 proved to be an exception when Jacinda Ardern led her Labour Party in a landslide victory.
Usually, the party with the most votes needs to form a coalition or agreement with another party or other parties to form a government.
Polls have indicated the current ruling Labour Party is unlikely to hit the threshold of 61 seats needed to govern, even if its coalition partner the Green Party wins its 15 predicted seats.
Who are the main candidates?
Chris Hipkins, Labour Party – Prime Minister Hipkins’s Labour Party is seeking another term in office, but polls suggest the centre-right opposition National Party is likely to win the most seats and could return to government with the help of coalition partners.
Hipkins, 45, is the current Prime Minister of New Zealand after taking up the post earlier this year when his predecessor Ardern stepped down in January. The Labour leader was formerly a minister of health and education during the pandemic.
His party has campaigned to fund cost-easing measures and make food more affordable.
Having promised not to form a coalition with his party’s closest rival, the National Party, Hipkins remains optimistic Labour will win, telling reporters: “I look forward to being back here in three years time as Prime Minister seeking another term.”
Christopher Luxon, National Party – Luxon, 52, comes from a business background. He served as chief executive of the national carrier, Air New Zealand, and was with Unilever before that. Entering politics in 2020, he is a relative newcomer, but polls indicate that his centre-right party is likely to win the lion’s share of the votes.
The National Party has campaigned to reduce the cost of living, provide tax relief, and improve healthcare and education. If it wins, the party will likely have to form a coalition government and will need at least one minor party to join up with. The party has said its preferred partner is ACT party, but that it is also prepared to discuss partnering with New Zealand First.
“There has been a bit of conflict between ACT and New Zealand First but the polls are indicating New Zealand First has upward momentum ahead of election day,” Dr Lara Greaves, Associate Professor in political science at Victoria University of Wellington, told Al Jazeera.
“There is still an outside chance of polling error, but barring the polls being mistaken or some kind of sudden lurch to the left, it seems like National will win.”
David Seymour, ACT New Zealand Party – The country’s third largest political party, ACT has been campaigning for welfare and government spending cuts, but it has also been talking about reducing the rights of Indigenous Maori people, who make up just over 16 percent of the country’s population of five million.
Winston Peters, New Zealand First Party – At 78, Peters has been in politics for more than four decades. He created New Zealand First to campaign for lower rates of immigration, and he remains a vocal critic on the topic. These elections could see his party play a crucial role in forming the next coalition government.
What are the key issues?
According to Greaves, the cost of living crisis has been dominating this election.
The country has been facing a budget deficit since 2019, and inflation is at a three-decade high. Rents too are reported to be at record highs and house prices have become unaffordable.
“New Zealand is facing similar inflation issues to other nations, but these pressures compound our pre-existing housing crisis,” Greaves said. “The parties have been debating potential visions for alleviating cost-of-living pressures.”
Law and order is the other hot issue voters are considering.
“The right-wing parties are consistently trying to paint the left as soft on crime. It hasn’t been the main issue but is certainly one that has been widely discussed this campaign, especially around sentencing for crime and youth offenders,” Greaves said.
In the run-up to elections, right-wing parties have faced accusations of stoking racial division, with the ACT party vowing to limit the use of Maori language in everyday life and also to dismantle the Maori Health Authority, a measure set up to counter systemic disadvantage.
“Yes to some degree there have been issues around race and the role of Maori in the governance of the country,” Greaves said. “The Maori tend to rate these issues as more important than the general electorate does, but many Maori leaders and commentators have expressed disappointment around Maori issues being a ‘political football.’”
When will the results be announced?
Official results will be announced on November 3, although preliminary results would start coming at 7pm (06:00 GMT) on election night. The electoral commission aims to release 50 percent of the results by 10pm (09:00 GMT) and 95 percent by 11:30pm (10:30 GMT).