Opposition Leader Judith Collins has called for an 11th hour deferring of New Zealand’s election, planned for September 19, due to the return of COVID-19.
And there’s every chance that may happen, with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to consider the matter later this week.
Ms Ardern postponed the dissolution of Parliament – poised for Wednesday – back to Monday, buying time to consider the decision.
In the meantime, her government is focussed on responding to the country’s first outbreak in three months, and all parliamentary parties have paused their campaigning.
“We’re in the first 24 hours of a response to resurgence. Our immediate focus has been that,” Ms Ardern said.
“We’re giving ourselves the room to fully consider the implications of a move of (the election) date and what we find out about what resurgence we’re seeing.”
Eight confirmed or probable cases have been identified in south Auckland in the last 24 hours, resulting in a 60-hour lockdown of New Zealand’s biggest city.
While Ms Ardern will wait, earmarking a Cabinet meeting on Friday for a discussion, the opposition leader called for a quick decision to “shift out the election date until a date later in November”.
An election is due before November 21.
The Electoral Commission has signalled it could hold the poll under alert level two conditions, which is the current situation in New Zealand, outside Auckland which is at the heightened alert level three.
Ms Collins outlined her opposition to mass postal voting, which may be required, tabling a radical proposal to defer a poll to 2021.
“The alternative is for her to call back Parliament … and by a supermajority could have the election pushed back into next year. We think that’s probably the better alternative,” she said.
The opposition is currently languishing in the polls, owing to Ms Ardern’s triumphant handling of an autumn lockdown which eliminated COVID-19 in the community.
Ms Collins’ deputy, Gerry Brownlee, also suggested Ms Ardern’s government knew about the outbreak well before its announcement; a conspiratorial assertion which an exasperated PM denied.
Many outside the governing parties, including former opposition leader Simon Bridges, believe a September 19 election would be politically tilted towards Labour.
“I’ve just cancelled public meetings and a lot of volunteers doorknocking. Meanwhile, Labour, while suspending campaigning, continues with all machinery of Govt and thus the power of the airwaves,” he tweeted.
Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters originally supported a November election but suggested National was playing politics.
“We’ve got a crisis here … what matters now is the health of New Zealanders. Not whether we have an election tomorrow,” he said.