Wellington : New Zealand’s conservative National Party is poised to hand the ruling Labour-led coalition a resounding defeat in the general elections in two days but could still struggle to form a government, according to two opinion polls released Thursday.
The polls showed the National and Labour parties running neck-and-neck in voter support with every chance that the indigenous Maori Party could hold the balance of power after Saturday’s general election.
The Maoris, who said they hope to increase their four seats in the current parliament to seven, have refused to say whether they would support Labour or the Nationals, pending a series of meetings with their 24,000 registered members throughout the country.
The meetings could take weeks, leaving New Zealand in limbo at a time in which the economy is in recession and the world is in a continuing international financial crisis.
A Television New Zealand poll showed the Nationals leading Labour 47 percent to 35 percent in voter support while a TV3 survey had them at 46 and 33 percent, respectively.
The Greens recorded 9 percent in both polls, the only other party over the 5-percent threshold that guarantees seats in parliament. Such a showing could see them double their representation to 12 members.
Under New Zealand’s proportional representation voting system, other parties could join them in the House of Representatives if their candidates win constituency seats.
The polls showed the Nationals, who are led by millionaire John Key, 47, poised to win 58 or 59 seats in a parliament that is likely to have 122 members.
They would be assured of three or four members from the free market ACT party and United Future leader Peter Dunne, a minister in the current Labour government who is switching sides, which could win them a narrow majority.
But Labour Prime Minister Helen Clark, 58, who has led minority coalitions for nine years, is assured of one Progressive Party member and has said she would welcome the Greens into her next government.
If the Maoris succeed in boosting their numbers and decide to support Labour, as the indigenous people traditionally have done in the past, Clark could come back into power.