* NZ general election set for Sept 20
* PM Key's centre-right party has commanding lead, but needs
* Election to focus on economy
By Gyles Beckford
WELLINGTON, March 10 New Zealand will hold its
general election on Sept. 20, Prime Minister John Key said on
Monday, in a vote that is likely to focus on his centre-right
National Party's economic record.
An election for the 120-seat parliament was required by the
end of the year, as the government was due to complete its
"I'm announcing the election date well in advance as I
believe this gives New Zealanders some certainty and is in the
country's best interests," Key said.
He said the date was influenced by a Group of 20 summit due
to be held in Australia in mid-November, to which New Zealand
has been invited to attend as an observer.
Key said his government would campaign on its record of
managing the economy, which has emerged strongly from recession
and the global financial crisis.
The economy is forecast to grow at more than 3 percent over
the next two years on the back of strong commodity prices and
the rebuild of earthquake damaged Christchurch, while the
government is forecasting a return to budget surplus next year.
A Reuters survey of six polls shows Key's National Party,
which has been in power since 2008, with 48 percent support
against the main opposition centre left Labour Party, which has
The early election notice, and National's commanding lead in
the polls were seen favouring its re-election.
"It's the government's election to lose, the story has been
for some time of a likely National (Party) win, and that Labour
is the underdog," said political scientist Bryce Edwards.
The Labour Party, which led the government between 1999 and
2008, has been struggling in the opinion polls, with the leader
of six-months David Cunliffe stumbling through a series of
gaffes in the past month.
Edwards said National would undoubtedly help smaller parties
who would be likely coalition supporters to get into parliament.
However, a close result might see the economic nationalist
New Zealand First party led by mercurial, veteran politician
Winston Peters holding the balance of power, if it is returned.
Under New Zealand's German-style proportional voting system,
brought in 1996, the biggest party has always needed the support
of minor parties to govern. A party must win either an
electorate seat or gain 5 percent of the nationwide vote to get
National currently has agreements with the centrist United
Future, free market Act Party, and the indigenous Maori Party,
which guarantee it a majority on all financial and confidence