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NZ election LIVE updates: Jacinda Ardern looks to secure second term amid nation’s cannabis, euthanasia referendums

It’s 7pm in New Zealand which means the polls have closed.

From now, we’ll start to see some more coverage of the New Zealand election (there are rules surrounding what can and can’t be posted in the hours leading up to 7pm).

Stay with us as we bring you the latest.

The New Zealand Electoral Commission will release preliminary election results from 7pm tonight, while the votes from the referendums will be counted after election day, with preliminary referendum results on October 30.

The official results for the general election and referendums will be released November 6.

We’re getting closer to crunch time as the polls close in ten minutes.

Approximately 1.1 million New Zealanders live overseas – approximately the same amount as those who live on the South Island – including about 700,000 people in Australia.

It’s a big number for a country of just 5 million people.

But in the 2017 election, just 61,524 of an estimated 600,000 eligible voters turned out to vote because voting is not compulsory.

And that figure of 60,000 was a big rise on the 40,132 people who voted in 2014, the first election in which it was possible to download, fill out, verify your ID and then upload your ballot to the NZ election commission.

Meet the former expat who’s campaigning for overseas Kiwis to “meddle” in their own elections.

The polls will be closing in 20 minutes, so it’s the perfect time for a quick recap.

  • All three of the major public polling companies in New Zealand suggest Jacinda Ardern and Labour are likely to win the largest slice of the vote tonight.
  • At this stage, the hot top for the result looks like a Labour-Greens coalition government, NZ First to just miss out, and National and ACT to sit on the opposition benches.
  • About 1.5 million people have already cast their votes in the advanced vote.

As an aside, social media on election day is covered by strict rules which means no one is allowed to post anything that could be seen as influencing votes on election day between midnight and 7pm Saturday.

Earlier today, Australia’s Labor leader, Anthony Albanese posted a tweet in which he wished Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern well in the election.

New Zealand’s Electoral Commission then responded and asked the Labor leader to remove the tweet, saying: “Kia ora Anthony – in New Zealand we have rules against promoting parties or candidates on social media on election day. could you please remove this tweet until after 7pm New Zealand time?”

The tweet has been removed.

The outgoing New Zealand government has been a somewhat unlikely alliance of Labour, the Greens – and Winston Peters’ nationalist New Zealand First.

Peters entered politics way back in 1979 for National and served four terms for the centre right party, including as a minister.

But the outspoken MP quit the party in 1993 to form NZ First and – ironically – ended up as deputy PM in coalition with National for two years from 1996.

Fast forward to the 2017 election and he once again became deputy PM and Foreign Minister in Ardern’s coalition government.

But now, he and his party look set to lose their nine seats as they are currently polling below the 5 per cent threshold vote needed to secure seats from the party list.

Peters is no stranger to losing his seat (he did so in 1981 and again in 2008) before making comebacks but if he misses out this time he’ll be 78 when the 2023 election is due to be held.

Jennifer Curtin, Professor of politics at University of Auckland: “I think it’s unlikely to be a centre right coalition. ACT is doing well but even if they get 8 per cent, most of their vote is likely to come from National. The centre-right might get a combined vote of 40 per cent. Even if the Greens get sub-5 per cent [and therefore miss out on seats from the party list] it’s unlikely that that 40 per cent will be enough to catch Labour.”

Richard Shaw, Professor of politics at Massey University: “It will be either Jacinda Ardern governing alone or Ardern governing with the Greens. It’s likely that Ardern will look to make an arrangement with the Greens, even if Labour have the majority in their own right because she’ll be looking to three or six years down the track.”

NZ PM Jacinda Ardern faces her challenger Judith Collins at the ballot box on October 17.

NZ PM Jacinda Ardern faces her challenger Judith Collins at the ballot box on October 17.Credit:Getty Images

Janine Hayward, Professor of politics at the University of Otago: “I never make predictions (laughs) because you just honestly don’t know. At the last election, when a Labour government was formed, it was National that had the largest proportion of the vote and nearly a majority”.

“I don’t think majority government is something that New Zealanders particularly like [there has never been a majority government under the current voting MMP system, which dates back to 1996]. Yes, Labour may get to govern alone but it won’t be a trend. I think they would still try to have an agreement with the Greens.”

Australia and New Zealand must remain deeply engaged in the Pacific or other countries with “less sympathy for democracy” will step into the breach, New Zealand Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters says, in a thinly veiled reference to growing Chinese influence.

Peters, who is the leader of the NZ First party that governs in coalition with Jacinda Ardern’s Labour party, said playing a bigger role in the Pacific was vital to Australia and New Zealand’s mutual defence and security interests.

NZ Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters.

NZ Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters.Credit:Getty Images

Peters, who is also Foreign Minister, told The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald on Friday that “there are many things that have to be done in the Pacific and working together we [Australia and New Zealand] can have greater impact. That’s very much, I’m certain, on Marise Payne’s mind and the co-operation has been exceptionally good”.

Read more here. 

Kiwis weren’t actually supposed to be going to the polls today – the election was originally scheduled for September 19, but then a second wave of the virus hit the country.

The so-called “Auckland August” cluster ended up being the biggest one the country has seen, with 179 cases reported, and forced a hasty rescheduling of election plans after the country had been virus-free for 100 days and things had gotten back to normal.

Auckland, the country’s biggest city, went into a tight stage three lockdown and the rest of the country into stage two and September 25 was the last time a community transmission of the disease was recorded in the country. A handful of cases turn up most days in residents returning to the country from overseas.

All told 1527 cases have been reported in the country, there are 40 active cases in quarantine facilities and there have been 25 deaths.

But while New Zealand has largely returned to its COVID-free status, the disease has cast a long shadow over the election campaign.

Jacinda Ardern has framed the election as a sort-of referendum on her government’s handling of the virus – something New Zealanders seem pretty happy with according to the polls – and on whether they think her spending plans and priorities (“jobs, jobs, jobs” and infrastructure) are the right way forward to chart a course towards economic recovery.

Judith Collins, for her part, has offered significant tax cuts, more business friendly policies, a plan to attract greater tech investment and more PhD students to the country.

With two hours to go until the polls close, many New Zealanders have already cast their votes during the advance voting period, which ran from October 3 to 16.

Data from the New Zealand electoral commission shows that by yesterday, 1,976, 996 people had already voted. That’s compared to more than 1.2 million in 2017, and 717,500 in 2014.

There are 2,567 voting places open today, New Zealand’s Chief Electoral Officer Alicia Wright said on Friday.

“It’s fantastic that so many people have got out early to vote, but there are still a lot who haven’t, and we don’t want them to miss out,” she said.

“It’s important that you have your say on who represents you in Parliament for the next three years. Saturday is your final chance to enrol, vote and be heard.”

New Zealanders are also voting on whether to legalise recreational marijuana, and whether to legalise assisted dying in Saturday’s poll.

The End of Life Choice Act 2019, to give it its formal name, would legalise voluntary euthanasia for people with a terminal illness who have less than six months to live.

PM Jacinda Ardern, opposition leader Judith Collins and former prime ministers John Key and Helen Clark have backed the campaign to legalise, and polling indicates about 60 per cent of Kiwis support the legal change – though the numbers have tightened considerably since April.

If supported, the Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill would make it legal to grow your own cannabis or to buy up to 14 grams of dried cannabis per day from a licensed dealer.

Consumption would have to take place in the home or at licensed premises – which would also be licensed to sell food – and the consumption age would be 20 and above.

Critics argue the bill does not do enough to protect vulnerable young people, while proponents argue it makes no sense to leave the cannabis in the hands of organised crime.

Collins has come out against the change (though she backs the already-legal medical cannabis) while Ardern won’t say what she supports – though she admitted during the second election debate to having smoked pot in the past.

The polls are all over the place on this one, with some suggesting support for legalisation and others (such as the last two Colmar Brunton surveys) suggesting it will be defeated.

You can read more about the decision – and the impact it could have on Australia – here.

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