* Final day of campaign before election on Saturday
* Ardern is seen securing a second term as PM
* COVID-19 recovery will be focus of next government
WELLINGTON, Oct 16 (Reuters) - New Zealand's Jacinda Ardern
on Friday urged voters to deliver her a strong general election
mandate, promising a swift recovery from the novel coronavirus
Ardern's decisive response to the crisis has left her
well-placed for Saturday's vote, although recent polls have
suggested her Labour Party may need support from the minor
Greens Party to form government.
"If you want pace and speed, give us a strong mandate,"
Ardern, 40, said in an interview on Radio New Zealand.
Labour has a comfortable double-digit lead over the main
opposition centre-right National Party, while support for the
Greens has been steady. The polls also predict the demise of the
nationalist New Zealand First Party, Labour's current coalition
partner led by Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters.
If Labour wins outright, it will be the first party to
govern alone since New Zealand switched to a mixed member
proportional (MMP) system in 1996.
A coalition of Labour and the Greens would be the first
left-leaning government in decades, a scenario that conservative
National Party leader Judith Collins has warned would mean more
taxes and an environment hostile to business.
Collins, 61, argues that she is best placed tackle the
post-pandemic financial challenges.
Both leaders organised walkabouts on Friday to woo a
undecided voter bloc of about 14%.
While life is back to normal in New Zealand, its borders are
still shut, its tourism sector is bleeding, and economists are
predicting a lasting recession.
The economy shrank 12.2% in the second quarter to its worst
level since the Great Depression, and debt is expected to peak
Ardern has pledged to increase taxes for top earners, while
Collins has promised short-term tax cuts, but they have
otherwise shown few major differences on policy.
"The relative lack of policy differences mean that much of
the debate has been about competence - which party and which
leader can be trusted to 'get the job done'," said Geoffrey
Miller, analyst at political website Democracy Project.
Ardern has been fighting off criticism her government has
failed on a promise to be transformational, despite a glowing
global profile and popularity at home for her empathetic
leadership during crises including the Christchurch mosque
shootings and the White Island volcano explosion.
"If we genuinely want to make sure what we are doing on
child poverty and on climate change isn't just a three-year
burst, I have to make sure it's sustained," Ardern said. "It
took decades to create, I need more than three years to fix it."
Both parties have similar views on monetary policy so the
markets and the New Zealand dollar, the world's 11th most-traded
currency, is likely to have a muted reaction to the outcome,
said Brad Olsen, senior economist at Infometrics.
"The business community is likely to see the election as a
continuation of current policies," said Olsen.
Business confidence, which hit historic lows in the early
months of Ardern's government, has improved after her successes.
Ardern won global acclaim for her handling of last year's
terror attack by a white supremacist against Muslims in
Christchurch, with an inclusive "be strong, be kind" mantra and
swift political action to ban guns.
She burnished her reputation this year with her "go hard, go
early" approach to the coronavirus, which has resulted in the
national elimination of COVID-19.
She retains a solid international following as "anti-Trump",
promoting issues such as woman's rights, social justice, and
Still, there has been criticism of her economic policies and
a looming summer season with no international tourists will be a
"She won't be able to ride this wave of personal popularity
forever," said Miller. "New Zealand has done well with
management of COVID-19 but Chapter 2 of the story starts from
About 1.5 million of 3.5 million registered voters have
already cast ballots. Polling closes at 7 p.m. (600 GMT) on
Saturday, with a provisional result likely that night.
New Zealanders will vote simultaneously on referenda to
legalise recreational cannabis and euthanasia. A vote in favour
of the former would make New Zealand only the third country in
the world to do so after Uruguay and Canada.
(Reporting by Praveen Menon
Editing by Jane Wardell, Robert Birsel)