New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has won a second term in office after the Labour Party won the general election in a landslide.
Initial tallies show Labour was on track to win 64 of the 120 seats in the country’s unicameral parliament, the highest by any party since New Zealand adopted a proportional voting system in 1996.
If Labour wins more than half the seats, Ms Ardern could form the first single-party government under the current system.
With polls closed and 90 per cent of votes counted, the Labour Party has won 49 per cent of votes, ahead of the opposition National Party of Judith Collins at 27 per cent.
“Tonight New Zealand has shown the Labour party its biggest support in 50 years,” Ms Adern said.
“We have seen that support in urban seats and rural seats and seats we may not have expected. And to that I have only two words: Thank you.”
She added: “This is not an ordinary election and this has not been an ordinary time.
“Tonight’s result is strong. It is clear that Labour will lead the government for the next three years.”
Ms Collins said she phoned the Prime Minister to congratulate her on the victory, but insisted ‘we will be back’.
“This is a historic shift,” political commentator Bryce Edwards of Victoria University in Wellington said, describing the vote as one of the biggest swings in New Zealand’s electoral history in 80 years.
“This is new ground,” he said.
“If these numbers hold, it will be a very strong mandate,” said Finance Minister Grant Robertson, a Labour MP.
“People were very grateful and very happy with how we’ve handled Covid, they like the shape of the plan that we’ve got going forward from here for the economy.”
Geoffrey Miller, analyst at political website Democracy Project, said the victory was “very much a personal triumph for Ms Ardern’s ‘superstar’ popularity and brand.”
One question will be whether Labour can win an outright majority in parliament, something that has not happened since New Zealand implemented a proportional voting system 24 years ago.
Typically, parties must form alliances to govern, but this time there is a chance Ms Ardern and Labour will be able to go it alone.
A record number of voters cast early ballots in the two weeks leading up to the election.
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.
Her popularity soared earlier this year after she led a successful effort to stamp out the coronavirus.
There is currently no community spread of the virus in the nation of five million and people are no longer required to wear masks or socially distance.
Ms Ardern won the top job after the 2017 election when Labour formed an alliance with two other parties.
The following year, Ms Ardern became only the second world leader to give birth while in office.
She became a role model for working mothers around the world, many of whom saw her as a counterpoint to US president Donald Trump.
And she was praised for her handling of last year’s attack on two Christchurch mosques, when a white supremacist gunned down 51 Muslim worshippers.
She moved quickly to pass new laws banning the deadliest types of semi-automatic weapons.
In late March this year, when only about 100 people had tested positive for Covid-19, Ms Ardern and her health officials put New Zealand into a strict lockdown with a motto of “go hard and go early”.
She shut the borders and outlined an ambitious goal of eliminating the virus entirely rather than just trying to control its spread.
With New Zealand having the advantage of being an isolated island nation, the strategy worked.
New Zealand eliminated community transmission for 102 days before a new cluster was discovered in August in Auckland.
Ms Ardern swiftly imposed a second lockdown in Auckland and the new outbreak faded away. The only new cases found recently have been among returning travellers, who are in quarantine.
The Auckland outbreak also prompted Ms Ardern to postpone the election by a month and helped increase the early voter turnout.
In the election, voters also have a say on two contentious social issues – whether to legalise marijuana and euthanasia.
Polls indicate the euthanasia referendum is likely to pass, while the marijuana vote remains close.