Conservative former businessman Christopher Luxon will be New Zealand’s next prime minister after winning a landslide election victory on Saturday.
The people voted for change after six years of Liberal government, led for most of that time by Jacinda Ardern.
The exact composition of Luxon’s Conservative government is still to be determined as ballots are still being counted. Prime Minister Chris Hipkins, who spent just nine months in the top job after taking over from Ardern in January, told supporters late on Saturday that he had called Luxon to resign.
Hipkins said it wasn’t the result he wanted.
“But I want you to be proud of what we’ve achieved in the last six years,” he told fans at an event in Wellington.
Ardern unexpectedly resigned as prime minister in January, saying she no longer had “enough in the tank” to do her job fairly. She won the last election by a landslide, but her popularity has been falling as people tire of the COVID-19 restrictions and inflation threatens the economy.
Her departure left Hipkins, 45, to take over. He previously served as Minister of Education and led the response to the coronavirus pandemic.
With more than two-thirds of the vote counted, Luxon’s National Party had about 40% of the vote. Under New Zealand’s proportional electoral system, Luxon, 53, was expected to ally with the libertarian ACT party.
Meanwhile, the Labor party, which Hipkins leads, was getting just over 25% of the vote – roughly half the share it got in the last election under Ardern.
And in a result that would be particularly stinging for Labor if they lose the seat, National is in a tight race for Ardern’s old electorate of Mount Albert. The seat has long been a Labor stronghold and was also held by another former Labor prime minister, Helen Clark.
National Party candidate for the seat Melissa Lee told The Associated Press she feels excited but also nervous about the final result in Mount Albert.
“It’s been Labor since 1946. It’s always been the biggest and safest Labor seat,” she said. “It would be fantastic if we won it.
Lee said when she knocked on doors, people told her they were tired of the current government and concerned about the state of the economy and the spiraling cost of living.
David Farrar, a long-time Conservative pollster, said there was still a good chance Labor would end up winning the seat once all the votes were counted. But he said his initial impression of the vote across the country was that it turned out to be a “bloodbath” for the left.
Luxon promised to cut taxes for middle-income earners and crack down on crime. Hipkins promised free dental care for people under 30 and the removal of sales tax on fruits and vegetables.
The government’s relationship with indigenous Maori is also at stake in the election. Luxon has promised to undo the Maori Health Authority, which it says is creating two separate health systems. Hipkins says he is proud of such shared governance efforts and accused Luxon of condoning racism.
Within days of taking the reins in January, Hipkins found himself in crisis after deadly floods and a cyclone hit New Zealand. He quickly ditched some of Ardern’s more controversial policies and promised a “back to basics” approach to tackling the spiraling cost of living.
Warm spring weather in Auckland’s biggest city appeared to have encouraged voters, with queues forming outside some polling stations. Early voting before the election was lower than in recent elections.
Image Source: RNZ