Ruling New Zealand party pursues minority govt

New Zealand’s ruling Labour Party seems set to form a new minority government after the Electoral Office confirmed on Saturday it has the biggest number of seats in the nation’s Parliament.

Labour took 50 seats in the September 17 election, two more than the main opposition National Party, final election results show, the Chief Electoral Office said in a statement.

The final count shows Labour retained its 50 seats after 218 000 special votes were added to the election night tally, and won 41,10% of the total vote nationwide. The main opposition National Party lost one seat in the recount.

“National ... has lost one list seat compared to election night and now has 48 seats in total,” Chief Electoral Officer David Henry said.

National’s loss of a seat came as its final tally of votes nationwide slipped to 39,10%—down from 39,63% on election night.

Special votes are those cast overseas and by people outside their home district on election day.

Speaking to reporters, National Party leader Don Brash said: “I formally concede ...
that we did not win enough seats to secure a mandate. I intend to phone [Prime Minister] Helen Clark to acknowledge that fact.”

Until now, Brash has refused to concede his party lost the election.

Among minor parties, the final seat count was unchanged after a nationwide turnout of 80,92% of registered voters, up from 76,98% in 2002.

Clark is expected to reopen talks on Monday with five minor parties to stitch together the 61-vote majority needed to control the nation’s 121-member House.

She immediately welcomed confirmation of the election results, adding that she is looking forward to “engaging further with those parties that have expressed a willingness to discuss arrangements with us”.

“Further talks to progress arrangements around forming a government are likely to be held in the coming week,” she said in a brief statement.

Clark (55) and Labour officials have held preliminary talks with the small parties in her efforts to secure a third three-year term—the first time Labour would have achieved that feat since World War II.

She has said her preference is to form a minority government and seek the support of other parties on crucial votes. On other legislation, Clark will seek minor-party support on a case-by-case basis.

The Progressive Party with one lawmaker is assured of being in a coalition with Labour, with leader Jim Anderton returning to the Cabinet.

The New Zealand First Party with seven seats and United Future with three have said they will talk first to the party with the most seats in the bid to form a minority government.

Both parties have warned they won’t support Clark’s government if she gives key government posts to members of the leftist Green Party.

The Greens have six seats and have signalled they want to work closely with Labour and would accept Cabinet posts.

The Maori Party with four seats will also be approached by Labour for support after party members stated they would prefer to deal with Labour rather than National.

Labour’s caucus is unlikely to vote to fill Cabinet posts till at least October 11, assuming a government has been formed.

Under party rules, the elected lawmakers vote for Cabinet ministers and the leader allocates portfolios. Clark has signalled a likely major shake-up of her Cabinet and portfolios held by incumbent ministers.

Brash (65) also said that “I can certainly see myself fighting the next election,” due by late 2008.—Sapa-AP

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