CHRIS HIPKINS speaks to members of the media outside New Zealand’s parliament in Wellington, New Zealand, Jan. 21. — REUTERS

WELLINGTON – New Zealand Prime Minister Chris Hipkins on Friday urged voters to get out and re-elect Labour in Saturday’s national election, as polls indicate a change in government after six years of left-wing rule.

Mr. Hipkins, who took over as prime minister in January when Jacinda Ardern made the surprise decision to step down, has struggled to win back swing voters disenfranchised with the Labour Party, which they blame for long COVID-19 lockdowns and a huge rise in the cost of living.

However, Mr. Hipkins, 45 said Labour was starting to see momentum build in the final hours of campaigning.

“We are expecting a really huge turnout … and we’re expecting a really strong result tomorrow night,” Mr. Hipkins, 45, told reporters.

The opposition centre-right National Party is ahead in the polls but is very unlikely to get a majority even with the support of its preferred coalition partner, the libertarian ACT Party.

Polls predict that the nationalist New Zealand First Party will hold the balance of power. The party was Labour’s coalition partner in 2017 but has said it will not work with Labour again.

National Party leader Christopher Luxon said on Friday there was a “very big mood for change” in the country.

“MMP (mixed member proportional) elections are always close. If you want change, you can’t rely on other people to do it, you’ve got to vote for it,” Mr. Luxon, 53, told media.

Both leaders organised walkabouts on Friday to woo an undecided voter bloc of about 9%. Hipkins even got on stage for a dance.

Over a million New Zealanders have already voted in advanced voting with nearly two million still expected to cast their ballots before voting closes at 7 p.m. (0600 GMT) Saturday.

Although a provisional result will likely be available on Saturday night, it is unlikely the next government will be known as coalition deals will need to be negotiated.

“Polls tend to suggest we are looking at a centre-right coalition but the increasing degree of support for some of the smaller third parties introduce a little bit more uncertainty about that,” said Westpac Chief Economist Kelly Eckhold.

“Thinking about the election, markets are particularly focused on the extent to which we get a clean result as opposed to potentially protracted coalition negotiations.” — Reuters