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New Zealand's Prime Minister Calls For Early Elections - 2002-06-11

New Zealand's Prime Minister Helen Clark announced Tuesday that voters will go to the polls three months early. The move is unusual in New Zealand, which saw its last early election in 1984 and the one before that in 1951.The prime minister may be hoping to capture a clear majority and end the current coalition government.

Prime Minister Helen Clark says problems within the government's main coalition partner prompted her to call an election. New Zealanders will go to the polls on July 27 instead of in October as previously expected.

The prime minister's Labor Party is in a coalition with the Alliance Party, which has recently split into different factions. Ms. Clark says the Alliance's internal woes hamper work on her government's agenda. "It is now undoubtedly having an impact on our ability to progress our program in Parliament, " she said. "Many bills are subject to undue delay. It is clear to me that time-wasting by the opposition will continue to obstruct the passage of important legislation until an election is called."

Analysts say Clark's Labor Party urged her to call the early vote, apparently fearing that party's current strong support could weaken if the election is delayed.

John Henderson is a political scientist with Canterbury University in New Zealand. "The Labor Party has been polling very well and the opposition parties poorly and she's calculated that this is as strong as their support will get and therefore she might as well capitalize on it," he said.

Boosted by a buoyant domestic economy and export sector, Clark is seen as a strong and stable leader, who has met all her pledges made in the last election, in November 1999.

Opinion polls show the Labor Party, which leads the center-left coalition, holds a commanding lead. It is widely expected to win as many as 68 seats in the 120-seat Parliament.

The Labor party holds 49 seats in Parliament now, and the Alliance has 10 seats. Labor also draws some support from the Green Party. The main opposition, the center-right National Party, has 39 seats, with 15 seats held by right-leaning minority parties.