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New Zealand Elections Expected to Return PM Clark to Power - 2002-07-27

In New Zealand, elections held Saturday are expected to return Prime Minister Helen Clark to power. But she may need the support of at least one minor party to form a new government.

At the beginning of the election campaign, Helen Clark's Labour government looked unstoppable. She called an early election, intent on winning an overall majority in the 120-seat parliament.

But, opinion polls now show her party lost support in recent weeks, in part because of a controversy over genetically modified foods.

Labour based its re-election campaign on Ms. Clark's leadership, and the need for stability. The government also highlighted its achievements, including a growing economy and more spending on public and social services.

Prime Minister Clark is confident of forming the next government. "What's the best guess? Well, we'd need to, you know, get back a little bit of the support that's gone to minor parties, for the majority coalition scenario to work," she said. "Right now, I think Kiwis (New Zealanders) are looking at the minority coalition scenario, led by Labour."

It is now likely Labour will need the support of the Greens, the Christian United Future coalition or New Zealand First, an anti-immigration party.

The news is far worse for the other major party, the conservative National Party. Once the dominant force in New Zealand politics, the Nationals are now on the decline, with just 23 percent support, according to opinion polls.

New Zealand, with a population of just under 4 million, elects a new government every three years. During its term in office, Labour has governed in a coalition with two minor parties.

Labour's slump and the shrinking support for the conservative National Party have benefited the smaller parties.

The Greens, in particular, look set to play a key role after the election. They are expected to win up to nine percent of the vote, and remain the natural partner for Labour in a coalition.