Ruling Labour likely to win New Zealand election
WELLINGTON, New Zealand — Prime Minister Helen Clark's ruling Labour Party appeared likely to hold on to power after facing a strong challenge from the conservative opposition in parliamentary elections Saturday.
With all regular votes counted, Labour held 50 seats and the resurgent National Party had 49 in a new Parliament of 122 lawmakers, leaving the two leading parties to negotiate with other blocs to form a government.
Clark, seeking to become New Zealand's first Labour leader since World War II to serve three consecutive terms as prime minister, was believed to have a better a chance of finding enough allies.
But National Party leader Don Brash, a former central bank governor, refused to concede.
Brash, who advocates scrapping New Zealand's 20-year-old nuclear-free policy in favor of stronger trade ties with the United States, rejuvenated his party by promising to scrap affirmative action programs for indigenous Maori.
The National Party had taken an early lead in opinion polls, but Clark battled back and her party won 41 percent of the ballots cast Saturday. National got 40 percent.
Still to be counted are "special votes" cast by New Zealanders overseas or voting outside their home electorate. Such ballots accounted for 10 percent of the votes in the 2002 election, but did not change the results.
Since coming to power in 1999, Clark has presided over a booming economy helped by strong prices for agricultural exports and a surge in tourism sparked by the "Lord of the Rings" movie trilogy, which was filmed here.
Unemployment is at a 30-year low of 3.7 percent and the budget has grown strongly each year Clark has been in office.
While domestic issues like taxation and spending on health dominated much of the campaign, another major battleground was New Zealand's laws banning nuclear weapons and nuclear power.
Brash said he was prepared to abandon the anti-nuclear policy if that secured a free trade deal with the United States. However, he also said a national referendum would have to back the plan.
Clark said she was appalled at the prospect of Brash scrapping the laws, which have strained relations with Washington since they were enacted in 1985.
"We can take pride ... in being nuclear-free," Clark said in a televised address to the nation Friday night. "And in having the strength and independence not to send our young people off to fight in unjust wars." <-- ass
The comments were a clear reference to her vocal opposition to President Bush's decision to invade Iraq.
Clark refused to send troops to take part in the war without U.N. approval, but she later dispatched army engineers to help rebuild the shattered country and Afghanistan.
Brash, who led the central bank for 15 years before entering politics, also pledged to scrap seven Parliament seats reserved for Maori and to abolish affirmative action policies and welfare aimed specifically at the largely impoverished minority of 530,000
Hate to say it, but it must be said.
IT'S BUSH'S FAULT!