Page last updated at 15:04 GMT, Saturday, 8 November 2008

New Zealand opposition wins vote

John Key: 'People have voted for a safer, more prosperous... New Zealand'

New Zealand's opposition National Party has swept to power, ending PM Helen Clark's nine-year Labour government.

Ms Clark admitted defeat and said she would step down as leader.

National leader John Key said the people had voted for a safer, more prosperous and ambitious New Zealand, but warned of tough times ahead.

Correspondents say Ms Clark has presided over years of strong growth and social reforms, but the economy has gone into recession this year.

The centre-right opposition won 45% of the vote, against 34% for Labour, leaving it just short of an overall majority.

It will be able to govern with the help of two smaller parties - the United Future and ACT parties - and will also look for support to the Maori Party.

Mr Key told the BBC he hoped his government would be inclusive.

"I want to run a centre-right government, a pragmatic and decisive government, but certainly one that reflects the views of all New Zealanders," he said.

'Vote for change'

About three million people were registered to vote - a record number for the country - though the estimated turnout, at 78.69%, was slightly down on the previous election in 2005.

We must make the most of our advantages because the state of the global economy and the global financial crisis means that the road ahead may well be a rocky one
John Key

According to official figures, National is set to win 59 seats, Labour 43 and their allies the Greens, with 6% of the vote, eight, in the 122-seat parliament.

Mr Key told supporters that hundreds and thousands of people across the country had "voted for change".

"Today, New Zealanders have voted for action, for a safer, more prosperous and more ambitious New Zealand," he said.

But he warned of difficult times.

"We must make the most of our advantages because the state of the global economy and the global financial crisis means that the road ahead may well be a rocky one," he said.

Election result piechart

Ms Clark said she accepted responsibility for the result and her job as leader of the Labour Party was complete.

"I will be standing down and I will be expecting my Labour Party colleagues to elect a new leader before Christmas," she told reporters.

Though the recession loomed large in the campaign, few major policy shifts are expected once the new government takes over, analysts say.

Both Labour and National had promised tax cuts and extra spending, amid fears that the global credit crisis will hit New Zealand hard.

Maori interests

Since the country introduced proportional voting in 1996, neither of the big parties has won an outright majority and they have always relied on the support of minor parties.

Clark: 'I accept responsibility for the result'

The new government will seek the backing of the Maori Party, formed before the 2005 election to give an authentic voice to indigenous people.

However, Mr Key said his party was "diametrically opposed" to some of its policies, and Maori leader Tariana Turia said there would be hard bargaining involved in any deal.

Among Maori demands are the repeal of a law preventing Maoris from claiming rights to the foreshore and seabed, and greater control over government spending on indigenous programmes to prevent waste.

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