Conservative businessman Christopher Luxon and his centre-right National Party will form the next government in New Zealand after scoring a major election victory.
With almost all the votes counted on Saturday, the National Party secured about 40 percent, putting it in a position to form a new administration with its preferred coalition, the libertarian ACT party, which received nine percent of the vote.
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Outgoing Prime Minister Chris Hipkins, who spent just nine months in the top job after taking over from Jacinda Ardern in January, told supporters late Saturday he had called Luxon to concede.
The exact makeup of Luxon’s government is still to be determined as ballots continue to be counted, but his victory marks a big change after six years of a liberal government mostly led by Ardern, who resigned after saying she no longer had “enough in the tank” to do the job.
“On the numbers tonight National will be in the position to lead the next government,” Luxon, a former executive who once ran Air New Zealand and entered politics just three years ago, told supporters in Auckland after he arrived to rapturous applause.
“We will make this an even better country,” he said, doubling down on his promise to get the country “back on track”.
Taxes, inflation and crime
Ardern and the liberals had won the last election in a landslide, but her popularity had taken a hit after longstanding COVID-19 restrictions and an historically high inflation rate affected voter perceptions.
Hipkins, her 45-year-old replacement, had previously served as education minister and led the response to the coronavirus pandemic.
In Saturday’s election, the Labour Party led by Hipkins won only a little over 25 percent of the vote, which was about half the votes it received in the last election under Ardern.
Labour is also seeing itself threatened as it may lose Ardern’s old electorate seat in Mount Albert, which has been a liberal stronghold for many decades.
Nanaia Mahuta, the foreign minister, also lost her constituency seat and will not be returning to the parliament.
Luxon has promised to cut taxes for middle-income earners, tackle the inflation issue, remove sales taxes on fruit and vegetables, and crack down on crime.
Luxon may yet need support from the populist New Zealand First Party as well as the ACT party because its majority remains slim. The final vote count will be revealed after overseas and special votes are counted in early November.
Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies