New Zealand PM-elect says prepare for more of the same

By Chris Foley, AFP

WELLINGTON–The New Zealand government’s handling of a fragile economy was the “overwhelming” reason for its third election victory, Prime Minister John Key said Sunday after his party won a historic majority and he eyed a fourth triumph. Voters “saw the economic direction we wanted to continue to take the country in and the things we have achieved over the last six years,” the center-right leader said. Asked if the economy was behind his resounding win in Saturday’s election, Key replied: “Yes. Overwhelming.” And he vowed more of the same. “I don’t intend to take the party veering off to the right,” Key said. “We’ve held the center ground for the last six years. We’re not looking to do radical things.” Accusations of dirty politics and mass spying dominated the hustings but had little impact on the result as Key’s National Party increased its support.

It was the first time in the seven elections since New Zealand adopted a complicated proportional representation system that a party has won enough seats to govern alone. But Key said he would not forget his coalition partners of the past two elections — ACT, United Future and the Maori Party — and would offer them roles in the new administration. “I always believed one of the reasons we did hold our support was because in the worst of economic times we really did continue to fund, and had to borrow to fund, programs to support the most vulnerable New Zealanders and I know there’s more work to be done,” he said. The central bank estimates the economy will grow 3.7 percent this year and budget figures say this should increase to 4.0 percent next year, while inflation in the year to June was a benign 1.6 percent. The government also posted its first budget surplus in six years in May, and says it has a plan to keep spiraling debt under control.

‘Fourth term sounds great’

As the opposition left-wing parties licked their wounds following the rout, Key promised an administration “that governs for all New Zealanders” and even contemplated contesting a rare fourth term in office at the next election in 2017. “Well, I’d like to,” he said. “You’ve got to believe we’ve got a great chance of doing that but I’m not silly enough (not) to know that to get that fourth term we have to deliver over the next three years.

“Fourth term sounds great, but you’ve got to earn it.”

A fourth consecutive victory has only been achieved twice in New Zealand — by the National Party led by Keith Holyoake in the 1960s and the Liberals under Richard Seddon who won five elections from 1893.