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New Zealanders vote as government eyes emphatic win

Large turnout in New Zealand general election, with exception that Centre-right National Party will score a big victory

Reuters , Saturday 26 Nov 2011
New Zealand
New Zealand PM Key celebrates retaining power(Reuters)
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Voters turned out in large numbers in New Zealand's general election on Saturday, with polls suggesting the centre-right National Party, led by John Key, will sweep back into power with an increased majority.

Key has promised to build on policies of the past three years with an emphasis on sparking economic growth by cutting debt, curbing spending, selling state assets and returning to a budget surplus by 2014/15.

"The most important thing is getting the economy right," said Kelly Weaver, a 25-year-old salesman, after voting, adding he didn't want to have to leave New Zealand to look for work in neighbouring Australia, as around 34,000 New Zealanders have done in the past year.

Queues were reported at some suburban booths in major cities as fine weather brought out voters. Key cast his ballot at a school near his Auckland home and said he was taking nothing for granted despite the party's commanding poll lead.

"You feel a combination of excitement and a little bit of nervousness and anticipation," Key, casually dressed in a blue open-collar shirt, jeans and white trainers, told reporters.

Opinion polls published in the last day of the campaign put Key's centre-right National Party as much as 25 percentage points ahead of the Labour Party.

Labour leader Phil Goff held on to hopes that the party would stage a late recovery and escape a drubbing, saying it was "all up to the voters".

The polls suggest National may gain an outright majority, which would be the first time ever since the country switched to a proportional voting system in 1996.

Parties must secure either a local electorate seat, or five percent of the nationwide vote, to enter the 120-seat parliament.

Two small parties, the free market ACT and centrist United Future, which supported the outgoing National government, are both struggling for survival and if they fail to get back in parliament, National may be forced to look to the Maori Party.

That party, which represents New Zealand's indigenous Maori people who make up 15 percent of the population, backed National after the last election and said it could do so again.

Labour's chances of forming a government look negligible, and the polls suggest it will lose seats. It campaigned strongly on no asset sales, but has been unable to dent the ratings of the affable Key, a former foreign exchange dealer.

"But Kiwis also go on personality," said John Parenga, 20, a cafe worker who cast an advance vote for National. There are about 3 million registered voters, out of a population of about 4.4 million. Voting is not compulsory.

Polls close at 7 p.m. (0600 GMT), with the final result expected by 11.30 p.m.

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