Conservatives set to unseat NZ PM
Opinion polls give National Party double-digit lead over Labour led by PM Helen Clark.
Last Modified: 07 Nov 2008 06:55 GMT
Helen Clark, right, is seeking a record fourth term as New Zealand's prime minister [AFP]

New Zealanders are preparing to head to the polls on Saturday with the conservative National party poised to end nearly a decade of Labour party rule.

Four opinion polls released on Friday indicated National had a lead of between 11 and 17 percentage points over the Labour party of Helen Clark, New Zealand's prime minister for the past nine years.

Clark has dismissed the opinion polls and is hoping for a historic fourth term when voters cast their ballots on Saturday.

"We're certainly picking up a lot of strong support for Labour out there on the ground, and the feeling that this isn't the time to jump into the unknown," she said on Radio NZ.

"I think people are aware there's a pretty serious international crisis out there and that Labour can be counted on to protect jobs and vulnerable people."

Recession factor

But the country is in recession and facing the impact of the global downturn, with unemployment levels, once among the lowest in the world, now creeping towards five per cent.

The Nationals led by Key, left, look set to take over from Clark's Labour party [AFP]
John Key, the leader of the National party who is a millionaire former foreign exchange dealer, agreed that the "polls are one thing, election night results can be a very different thing".

Voting in New Zealand is not compulsory and as much as 10 per cent of the electorate could remain undecided until the last minute.

But Key did allow that his party's double-digit lead was "fantastic" and has highlighted his economic credentials as a strength.

Small parties which have pledged to back National - the right wing ACT party and the centrist United Future - also showed enough support in opinion polls to give National a majority in parliament.

Under New Zealand's proportional representation voting system, no single party has ever gained an outright majority of seats, meaning they have had to strike deals with minority parties to govern.

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