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Michael Peschardt reports for BBC News
"Voters had decided it was time for a change"
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The BBC's Giles Beckford
"Payback for nine years in opposition"
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Saturday, 27 November, 1999, 22:03 GMT
New Zealand shifts left
Helen Clark Helen Clark: "We can have a fresh start"

New Zealand has voted in a new centre-left coalition, ending nine years of conservative rule under the National Party.

The country's first elected female prime minister will be the Labour Party leader, Helen Clark.

"It appears that New Zealand has decided it is time for a change"
Jenny Shipley
Celebrating victory at a party in Auckland, she promised "a fair society, good education, good health system, dignity in retirement and an absolute commitment to a growing economy, which shares opportunity and work".

She has pledged to move the party away from hard-line free market policies towards social democratic values.

Outgoing Prime Minister Jenny Shipley, who seized the leadership of her party in a backroom coup two years ago, conceded defeat before all the votes had been counted.

Jenny Shipley Jenny Shipley: conceded defeat with grace
She telephoned her opponent to congratulate her before addressing a National Party gathering.

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

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

For the first time in an industrialised country, the choice was between two women as the main candidates for the premiership.

How ballots were cast

Almost 90% of the electorate voted, despite appalling weather on the South Island in particular, where flooding caused chaos.

With all but a handful of votes counted, Labour had 52 seats - up from 37 in the 1996 election.

"We are on the cusp of a new century, and we can have a fresh start.
Helen Clark
The left-wing Alliance party, which is part of Miss Clark's coalition, had 11 seats - down two from 1996.

"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."

National Party representation was down from 44 to 41 seats in the 120-seat parliament.

Of the remaining seats, six went to the centrist New Zealand First Party, one went to the centre-right United party and nine to the right-wing ACT party.

The Greens, fighting their first election, fell just 0.1% short of the 5% support needed for a presence in parliament.

'Change of direction'

Miss Clark has said she will begin negotiations on the make-up of her cabinet with Mr Anderton on Sunday. She said she hoped to have a coalition programme in place before Christmas.

In the meantime, Mrs Shipley's government will continue in a caretaker role.

"The result tonight clearly indicates that New Zealanders want a change of direction," Miss Clark told supporters. "We are on the cusp of a new century, and we can have a fresh start."

A total of 29 political parties were registered to run in the general election, and the new parliament will have not only more women, but also what is believed to be the world's first openly transsexual MP - Georgina Beyer of the Labour Party.

Two non-binding, citizen-initiated referenda, also on the ballot, passed overwhelmingly. One advocated tougher sentences for criminals, and the other recommended a reduction in the number of members of parliament from 120 to 99.

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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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