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NZ election delayed over virus outbreak

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Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has delayed the New Zealand election by four weeks, naming October 17 as the new polling date after an outbreak of COVID-19 in Auckland.

 

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New Zealand was set to go to the polls on September 19 until the country’s first community outbreak in 102 days sprung up in Auckland last week.

Responding to calls from the opposition and her deputy Winston Peters, Ardern decided to defer the election.

“I want to ensure we have a well-run election that gives all voters the best chance to receive all the information they need about parties and candidates and delivers certainty for the future,” she said in Wellington on Monday morning.

“I do need to provide certainty, a sense of fairness and a sense of comfort to voters to ensure them that this will be a safe election.”

Ardern has ruled out a further delay to the poll, even if the current outbreak worsens or another outbreak takes place.

Ardern is a raging favourite to win re-election at the poll after navigating a first term packed with political drama and human disasters.

The 40-year-old Labour leader became a first-time mother in 2018, before the tragedies of the Christchurch mosques shooting, the White Island volcanic eruption and the arrival of COVID-19.

Ardern first announced September 19 as her preferred polling date back in January.

However, the surprise return of the virus on the day before the parliament was due to be dissolved led to an 11th hour review of the poll date.

Ardern placed Auckland into a fortnight-long lockdown to contain the virus, with restrictions set to be rolled back on August 26 – just 10 days before the scheduled start of early voting.

That compressed campaigning timeline saw opposition leader Judith Collins, Peters and one-man party ACT have all petition Ardern for a delay.

Collins also says a delay would be both “right and fair”, suggesting Ardern is benefiting politically from increased visibility during the recent outbreak.

Peters argued an election in the current environment would suppress turnout and his ability to woo voters.

The 75-year-old welcomed the delay, saying “common sense has prevailed”.

“Voters need to be able to hear from all political parties about their COVID response and other policies. That is fair,” he said.

“Until Auckland’s alert level comes down the playing field is hopelessly compromised.”

Two scheduled referenda – on cannabis legalisation and euthanasia – will also be shifted to take place alongside the election.

Ardern said she consulted with all parliamentary parties, including the Greens who wanted to push on with September 19, but denied Peters tipped her hand.

“It would be entirely inappropriate for this decision to be based on anything that could be seen as political partisanship,” she said.

The decision means parliament will return on Tuesday and be dissolved on September 6.

-AAP

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