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Michael Peschardt reports for BBC News
"Voters had decided it was time for a change"
 real 28k

The BBC's Giles Beckford
"The two candidates couldn't be more different"
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Saturday, 27 November, 1999, 11:53 GMT
New government for New Zealand
The Shipley family cast their ballots Mrs Shipley, right, and her family cast their ballots early

Labour leader Helen Clark looks set to become New Zealand's first elected female prime minister.

Incumbent Prime Minister Jenny Shipley has conceded defeat in New Zealand's general election.

The announcement ends the nine-year rule of her conservative National Party and opens the door to a new centre-left coalition.

For the first time in an industrialised country, voters had to choose between two women as the main candidates for the premiership.

Mrs Shipley telephoned Labour leader Helen Clark to congratulate her before addressing a National Party gathering.

"It appears that New Zealand has decided it is time for a change," Mrs Shipley told supporters in an emotional speech.

"I have spoken to the Right Honourable Helen Clark and I have warmly congratulated her on her success."

With two-thirds of the ballots counted, Labour had 38.7% to National's 30.8%. The Alliance had 7.9% and the right-wing ACT, 7.0%.

According to television projections, a centre-left Labour-Alliance government will have a six to 10-seat majority in the 120-seat parliament..

"It is clear to me that the centre-left has won a great victory in New Zealand tonight," Alliance leader Jim Anderton said. "I want to warmly and very sincerely congratulate Helen Clark."

Electoral officers said fears of a low turnout appeared misplaced, despite the poor weather in many towns and cities.

Helen Clarke votes Helen Clark is offering a "fresh start"
Contrasting styles

The BBC's Giles Beckford in the capital, Wellington, said the two women offered different styles and approaches to the top job.

"We are either going to put in place a government that is capable of building a future for New Zealand or we are going back to the wreckers," Mrs Shipley said late on Friday. "Don't vote for change when New Zealand is doing so well."

She wanted the nation to stick with her free market policies and was offering tax cuts for individuals and businesses.

"I think New Zealanders are looking forward to a fresh start in the new century, with a government committed to a better deal for ordinary hard-working people," said the Labour leader.

She had pledged to raise taxes to help fund improvements in social and health services and to set up a venture capital fund for new businesses.

Separate votes

Under New Zealand's complex system of proportional representation, the 2.5 million registered voters did not directly choose the prime minister. They had two separate votes - one for a party list and another for their constituency candidate.

There were also two non-binding referenda being decided - one recommending a reduction in the number of members of parliament, the other advocating tougher sentences for criminals.

Voting was not compulsory, but in the last election in 1993, nearly 90% of voters cast their ballot. A total of 29 political parties were registered to run this time.

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See also:
27 Nov 99 |  Asia-Pacific
Profile of Helen Clark
25 Nov 99 |  Asia-Pacific
New Zealand's poll: Change at the top?
25 Nov 99 |  Asia-Pacific
Shipley's late NZ election appeal
24 Nov 99 |  Asia-Pacific
NZ minister fired in Maori row
02 Sep 99 |  Asia-Pacific
Maori battle for equal rights
26 Nov 99 |  Asia-Pacific
Politicians woo the Maori

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