New Zealand election: voters head to the polls | World news
New Zealanders are heading to the polls today in the country’s 53rd general election.
The focus of the election is which party will be able to steer the country through a recession and best handle the pandemic.
Doors to the polling booths opened at 9am, though a record number of voters – more than 1.7 million – cast their ballots in advance, accounting for almost half of the roughly 3.5 million New Zealanders on the electoral rolls.
Restrictions are in place on what news media can report about the race until polls close at 7pm, and politicians have had to cease all campaigning, including taking down posters, and pulling advertisements from TV and radio. The rule is designed to limit undue influence on the crucial day and allow voters to cast their ballot in peace.
In a surprise move the Electoral commission gently reprimanded a British MP via Twitter on Saturday morning, reminding Angela Eagle of Wallasey that it was against New Zealand to law to post anything to social media promoting parties or candidates on voting day. Eagle’s tweet was later deleted.
No exit polls are allowed to be conducted or released either. Jacinda Ardern spent the day delivering cheese scones to volunteers, while National party leader Judith Collins kept a low profile. Voters traditionally embrace the silence by posting pictures of their dogs at the polling stations.
At 7pm the Electoral Commission will begin publishing preliminary results, with the aim of counting 50% of the vote by 10pm, and 100% by 11.30pm. It is thought the results could come out quickly this year, because so many advance votes have been cast.
Special votes, including ballots from New Zealanders overseas and those who vote outside their home constituencies, will not be released until 6 November.
New Zealanders are also voting on referendums to legalise euthanasia and recreational marijuana. The latter vote could make New Zealand only the third country in the world to allow the adult use and sale of cannabis nationwide, after Uruguay and Canada.
The results of the referendums will be announced on 30 October.
New Zealand switched to a mixed-member proportional electoral system in 1996 in which a party or coalition needs 61 of Parliament’s 120 seats – usually about 48% of the vote – to form a government.
This means minor parties often play an influential role in determining which major party governs.
The 2020 election is one of the strangest New Zealand has seen, and has been described as “weird”, “bizarre” and “odd” by seasoned political observers. The vote was delayed by a month after an outbreak of Covid-19 in Auckland, and many have described feeling tired by the long campaigning period, on top of what has already been a trying year.