Rugby prompts early NZ elections

The conservative National Party
will be seeking a second three- year term in office, after coming to power in
2008 when it defeated the Labour Party, which had headed minority governments
for nine years.

The early announcement, made by
Prime Minister John Key broke with political tradition as the actual election
date is not fixed by law and prime ministers usually keep the opposition
guessing until the last moment as to when elections will be called.

Key said he wanted to give the
country certainty to allow the Rugby World Cup – the biggest sporting event New
Zealand has ever hosted – to be held in September and October without it being
tainted by political speculation about the election date.

“I believe it is in the
country’s best interests to know the date of the general election early in election
year,” he said.

New Zealand’s proportional
representation electoral system ensures minor parties win seats in the 122-seat
parliament and Key’s Nationals govern with the support of three others after
failing to win an overall majority in 2008.

He said he would work again with
the free market ACT party, the indigenous Maori Party and the one-man United
Future, but ruled out co-operating with the nationalist New Zealand First
party.

The maverick New Zealand First
leader, Winston Peters, has been deputy prime minister and foreign minister in
both National and Labour-led governments in the past, but his party failed to
win any seats in the last election.

Opinion polls indicate, however,
that New Zealand First candidates have every prospect of being returned to
parliament again this year.

The polls show the Nationals well
ahead of Labour and Key far more popular than his Labour Party challenger Phil
Goff.

Current seats held in parliament by
each party are National 58, Labour 42, Greens 9, ACT 5, Maori 5, United Future
1, Progressive 1, and Independent 1.

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