© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaks to supporters at a Labor Party event in Wellington
From Praveen Menon
WELLINGTON (Reuters) – After an impressive election victory, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Sunday that she would form a government within three weeks, but declined to say whether she would rule alone or form a coalition.
Ardern delivered the biggest election victory for their center-left Labor party in half a century on Saturday. Her new majority in Parliament will enable her to form the first single-party government since New Zealand introduced proportional voting in 1996.
"Although it will be three weeks before we have the final result, I assume that we will work on the formation of the government within this framework," said Ardern at a press conference.
Labor won 64 of the country's 120 seats in the country's unicameral parliament.
For the past three years, Ardern has been in a coalition with the Green Party and the nationalist New Zealand First Party. Although it no longer needs support, coalitions are the norm in New Zealand as the parties try to build consensus.
"I was a consensus-builder, but I also have to work with the mandate that Labor received," said Ardern.
"I told the Greens I would speak to them next week," she said. "I don't want to draw a conclusion at this point."
The Greens returned with a larger mandate of 7.6% of the vote, but NZ First, led by Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters, did not find enough support to return to Parliament.
The Maori party, which represents the indigenous community, which makes up around 15% of the population, made a comeback in parliament.
The resounding victory is a yes for Ardern's progressive, democratic governance and leadership in cracking down on COVID-19 in the country, as well as for handling a massacre of 51 believers in two Christchurch mosques and a deadly volcanic eruption.
Ardern, 40, has burned her reputation this year with her "go hard, go early" approach to COVID-19, which pretty much cleared the coronavirus in the country, until a new case was reported on Sunday.
New Zealand had only 25 deaths and around 1,500 infections. In the new case, health officials said the infected person was identified early and the risk of transmission was reduced.
Ardern has a solid international following by promoting issues such as women's rights, social justice and multilateralism.
Even so, their economic policies have been criticized and an upcoming summer season with no international tourists will be a great test.
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