WELLINGTON (Reuters) - Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is on course for a historic election win next month, an opinion poll showed on Tuesday, as New Zealanders cheered her success in containing the novel coronavirus.
The 1News-Colmar Brunton poll showed support for Ardern’s Labour Party was at 48%, down 5 percentage points from the last poll in July, but still enough to give it a majority in parliament.
The government imposed a second coronavirus lockdown in the biggest city Auckland in mid-August.
The results mean Labour would get 62 of the 120 parliament seats and would be able to govern alone, which would be a first since the country adopted a German-style mixed member proportional (MMP) system in 1994.
Ardern became the country’s youngest leader in more than 150 years in 2017 after the kingmaker nationalist New Zealand First Party agreed to form a government with her Labour Party, ending the National Party’s decade in power.
Support for the opposition National Party fell 1 percentage point to 31%, under newly elected leader Judith Collins, the poll showed.
“Every day we will be out there earning every vote. I take no vote for granted,” Ardern said in a television debate with Collins.
It was the first of four debates planned between the two women ahead of the election, which was delayed by a month because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Ardern said the government would still pursue a “stamp it out regime” for the coronavirus as it was the best way to open up the economy. New Zealand’s economy fell into its deepest recession on record in the second quarter.
All recent polls have pointed to a comfortable victory for Ardern’s Labour Party, governing in a coalition with the Greens and New Zealand First, which is campaigning on its record of bringing the coronavirus under control and containing community transmission.
The Pacific island nation was COVID-free for 102 days until a second wave hit Auckland last month.
Ardern, 40, also holds huge global appeal due to her response to last year’s attack by a white supremacist on two mosques, a fatal volcanic eruption and her success with the COVID-19 outbreak.
But Collins, a former lawyer known as “Crusher Collins”, wants voters to think instead about the lacklustre economy, and what she calls Ardern’s broken promises to fix a housing crisis, tackle poverty and bring in tax reforms.
In the 90-minute debate Collins, 61, described the election as the most important in a generation, and promised she would cut taxes immediately, spend billions on infrastructure, build more homes and manage COVID-19 quarantine facilities better.
“We’re the people who get stuff done,” said Collins.
Ardern’s popularity as preferred prime minister was steady at 54%, while Collins dropped to 18%.
The polls also showed the Green Party got 6% support while the ACT New Zealand surprised with 7% support.
But populist New Zealand First Party, dropped to 2%, which means it could be booted out of parliament unless it wins an electorate seat.
Reporting by Praveen Menon, Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Ana Nicolaci da Costa
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