WELLINGTON, Oct 17 (Reuters) - New Zealanders went to the
polls on Saturday in a general election that could see Prime
Minister Jacinda Ardern strengthen her left-of-centre hold on
government or a challenge from conservatives led by Judith
Labour Party leader Ardern, 40, and National Party chief
Collins, 61, are the faces of the election to form the country's
53rd parliament, a pandemic-focused referendum on Ardern's
Doors to the polling booths opened at 9 a.m. (2000 GMT on
Friday), though a record number of voters had already cast their
ballots in advance.
Restrictions are in place on what news media can report
about the race until polls close at 7 p.m. (0600 GMT), after
which the Electoral Commission is expected to begin releasing
More than 1.7 million ballots had already been cast as of
Friday, accounting for almost half of the about 3.5 million New
Zealanders on the electoral rolls.
Special votes, including ballots from New Zealanders
overseas and those who vote outside their home constituencies,
will only be released on Nov. 6.
New Zealanders are also voting on referendums to legalise
euthanasia and recreational marijuana. The latter vote could
make New Zealand only the third country in the world to allow
the adult use and sale cannabis nationwide, after Uruguay and
Results of the referendums be announced on Oct. 30.
New Zealand switched to a mixed member proportional system
in 1996 in which a party or coalition needs 61 of Parliament's
120 seats - usually about 48% of the vote - to form a
This means minor parties often play an influential role in
determining which major party governs.
(Reporting by Praveen Menon; Editing by William Mallard)