New Zealand election: Jacinda Ardern wins by landslide after calm coronavirus response

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Jacinda Ardern has won a landslide victory in New Zealand's general election as voters rewarded her for a decisive response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The mandate means Ardern, 40, could form the first single-party government in decades, and face the challenge of delivering on the progressive transformation she promised but failed to deliver in her first term, where Labour shared power with a nationalist party.

New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has shown a strong early lead in the country’s upcoming general election and is on track for a second term in office.

Voting began on Saturday with initial polls following a campaign by Ardern dominated by her handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Ardern, 40, and opposition leader Judith Collins, 61, of the centre-right National Party, are facing off in an election to form the country's 53rd parliament following Ardern’s three year term.

Initial tallies showed Labour had 50.3 per cent of the votes while the opposition held 25.9 per cent.

Three million have already voted as early polling opened on 3 October.

Out of Labour’s current coalition partners, the nationalist New Zealand First Party holding 2.2 per cent and the Green party 8.7 per cent.

Throughout the election, Labour has led by wide margins and original surveys suggested Ardern was on track to form a Labour only government.

This would have been the first outright majority government since New Zealand adopted their proportional voting system in 1996 whereby a party or coalition requires 61 seats in a parliament of 120 – around 48 per cent of the vote – to form a government.

Subsequently, minor parties often play an influential role in determining the result and more recent polls suggested Ardern would need the continued support of the minor Green Party, led by James Shaw.

The election has been delayed by a month due to a surge of infections in the country’s largest city, Auckland.

Ardern implemented a second lockdown in the city after a family of four tested positive for the virus on 11 August, leading to the largest cluster of infections in the country.

It remains the case that only New Zealand residents, citizens and their parents and partners are allowed to enter the country.

Ardern’s Labour party slogan has been “Let’s keep moving” while they campaign on its record as one of the most successful countries in their handling of Covid.

The National party has been campaigning on assertions of better economic management.

The country, with a population of five million, boasts no community cases and is one of the few nations that don’t require mandatory mask wearing and social distancing in public spaces.

Throughout the pandemic, there have been 25 deaths and under Ardern’s government, fewer than 2,000 cases have been reported.

New Zealanders will not merely be going to the polls on Saturday to vote for their next leader, but will decide in two referendums to legalise cannabis and euthansasia.

If the former is actualised, the country will become the third nation in the world to legalise marijuana, after Uruguay and Canada.

The results will be announced on 30 October.