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FACTBOX-New Zealand 2020 election - facts and key players

WELLINGTON, Oct 9 (Reuters) - New Zealanders head to the polls on Oct. 17 with popular 40-year-old Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern seen as a frontrunner to secure a second term in office.

Below are some key facts on the election:

-- New Zealand has a general election every 3 years and uses a voting system called Mixed Member Proportional (MMP). A proportional representation system similar to that used in Germany, where a party, or combination of parties, needs 61 of 120 seats in parliament to form a government. This makes the votes of smaller parties crucial to form a coalition.

In the last election then prime minister Bill English led the National Party to win the most number of seats, but Ardern’s Labour Party eventually formed the government by winning the support from minority Green Party and the centrist New Zealand First party.

Since MMP was introduced in the 1996 election, no single party has been able to form a government on its own.

-- Jacinda Ardern, 40, is the forerunner in the contest, with opinion polls putting her Labour Party ahead of her rivals. Her popularity skyrocketed after her success in containing the coronavirus, and her compassionate response to a terror attack in Christchurch last year.

Ardern is up against Judith Collins, also known as ‘Crusher’ Collins, who burst into the race just weeks ahead of the polls as the National Party reeled from a series of leadership changes and scandals.

Other leaders include NZ First leader and Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters, a kingmaker in the last election who eventually sided with Ardern. National has already announced this time that it would not join hands with Peters.

Meanwhile, Green Party leader James Shaw has said it would support Labour in the next term.

-- New Zealanders will also be voting on referenda to legalise cannabis and euthanasia. Kiwis will be asked if recreational use of cannabis should become legal and if the End of Life Choice Act 2019 should come into force, giving people with a terminal illness the option of requesting assisted dying.

National’s Collins is opposed to legalising cannabis but Ardern has refused to say which way she would vote. Both are in favour of legalising euthanasia.

-- Voting results are published on election night. These preliminary results give an early idea of how parties and candidates are doing. Final results will be released on Nov. 6.

About 3.4 million people have enrolled for voting. About 250,000 people have already voted in early polls that started Oct 3. (Reporting by Praveen Menon)

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