New Zealand's ruling National Party regains wide lead over Labour

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The New Zealand general election ended in stalemate on Saturday with official results showing the minority New Zealand First (NZF) party in a position to play kingmaker and in no hurry to decide which major party it will support.

Neither will secure enough seats needed to form government outright, so will need to form a Coalition government with help from a minor party.

Prime Minister Bill English, who oversaw a disastrous election loss for the National Party in 2002, became leader previous year after his predecessor John Key's shock resignation.

Labour's Jacinda Ardern was vying to defeat Prime Minister Bill English in Saturday's NZ election.

She also wants to cut migration and renegotiate some trade deals, which some worry could hurt two key sources of growth for New Zealand's small, outward-looking economy.

Soon after television commentators predicted that James Shaw's speech should be a concession of sorts, and that he should agree to do whatever it took for Labour and New Zealand First to form a Government, James Shaw appeared and did the opposite.

For English, who campaigned heavily on National's economic credentials after taking the party leadership a year ago, the strong showing was a vindication after National crashed to its worst ever election result in 2002 under his first stint as leader. In the next few days we will begin discussions with New Zealand First in finding common ground and most importantly forming the kind of Government that will allow New Zealand to get on with the success.

Ms Ardern, 37, has enjoyed a remarkable surge in popularity since taking over as opposition leader last month. Labor is likely to tie up with the Green Party, which now holds seven seats.

In Christchurch Central, Labour's Duncan Webb beat sitting National MP and Cabinet minister Nicky Wagner, who had won the seat in the last two elections.

"We gave it everything, and we got better and better", he said.

At stake for both candidates was how to capitalize on New Zealand's growing economy.

But she says she realises they need the youth to turn out.

He thanked rival Jacinda Ardern for a hard-fought campaign, which he said had motivated and engaged more New Zealanders than any campaign he could remember.

More than 986,000 ballots have already been cast, accounting for nearly a third of the 3.2 million New Zealanders on the electoral rolls.

Mr English addressed thousands of jubilant National Party supporters at Sky City in Auckland, after his party claimed 46.1 percent of the provisional party vote in the 2017 Election.

Voter engagement was high, with more than 800,000 taking advantage of early voting by Thursday, nearly double the number who had done so at an equivalent point in the last election.

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