Ardern's Labour Party Wins New Zealand Election, Opposition Concedes

Jacinda Ardern hugging a family member of a victim of the Christchurch terror attack

Labour had 49.0% of the votes, far ahead of National at 27%, the Electoral Commission said, with 95% of ballots counted. Opposition leader Judith Collins' centre-right National Party was on 26.0 percent, or 34 seats, and appears headed for its worst result in almost 20 years.

Party president Claire Szabo praised the campaign of the charismatic leader, who sparked a wave of support dubbed "Jacinda-mania" when she took over the party in 2017 as it was languishing in the polls.

Greens co-leader Marama Davidson, whose party governed in coalition with Labour during the first term, said the prime minister now had a mandate to implement change.

Early results show Ardern has won comfortably, with the prime minister declaring victory after 70% of votes were counted.

The centre-right National Party is on 26% of the vote and the Green Party on 8%.

Labour Party leader Ardern, 40, and National Party chief Collins, 61, faced off in the election to form the country's 53rd parliament, a referendum on Ardern's three-year term.

Special votes, including ballots from New Zealanders overseas and those who vote outside their home constituencies, will only be released on November 6. Those results could affect the final allocation of seats in parliament.

The Auckland outbreak also prompted Ms Ardern to postpone the election by a month and helped increase the early voter turnout.

The pandemic is just one of a string of crises that showed Ardern's leadership qualities during a torrid first term. No new community cases have been reported since late September.

At the start of the year, polls suggested National and Labour could be in for a tight election.

"Over the next three years there is much work to do", she told supporters Saturday night in Auckland.

The election was delayed by a month after new COVID-19 infections in Auckland, that led to a second lockdown in the country's largest city. Collins said during her concession speech on Saturday.

"We will not take your support for granted".

"Tonight has been a very tough night. but three years will be gone in the blink of an eye and I say to everybody: 'We will be back'".

Doors to the polling booths opened at 9:00am, though a record number of voters had already cast their ballots in advance.

Still, the outlook remains bleak over the medium term, with the country's biggest foreign exchange earner - tourism - hobbled by a border that is nearly entirely closed except to returning New Zealanders.

The election also saw Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters and his small New Zealand First party voted out.

On the campaign trail, Ms Ardern has been greeted like a rock star by people who have crammed into shopping malls and spilled onto streets to cheer her on and get selfies with her. The following year, she became only the second world leader to give birth while in office.

Previous year she won praise for her handling of the worst terrorist attack in New Zealand's history, the Christchurch mosques shooting.

Ardern again found herself comforting a shocked nation when a volcanic eruption at White Island, also known as Whakaari, killed 21 people and left dozens more with horrific burns.

But while she promised to lead a government of "transformation", her critics argue she hasn't done enough to address inequality, child poverty, climate change and the housing market.

"I want to congratulate Jacinda Ardern and her team on an extraordinary win", she said.

"We will govern as we campaigned: positively with optimism about our future", Ardern said. "I am not done yet".

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