World News

Support for NZ Labour government slips after first budget, as Ardern's approval remains high

FILE PHOTO: New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaks during a press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel after a meeting at the chancellery in Berlin, Germany, April 17, 2018. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke/File Photo

WELLINGTON (Reuters) - Support for New Zealand’s Labour-led coalition government, headed by 37-year-old pregnant Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, slipped slightly after the release of its first budget, an average of polls found on Tuesday.

An average in three polls, all taken in the wake of the government’s budget announcement on May 17, showed support for Labour at 42.2 percent, down from 44 percent in February, according to Radio New Zealand.

Nevertheless, support for Ardern, who this month will become the first prime minister in the country’s history to take maternity leave while in office, remained at high levels, with a UMR poll showing her approval rating at 76 percent.

Labour’s coalition partner, New Zealand First dropped to 3.9 percent, below the threshold needed to gain seats in Parliament just as its leader, Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters, was about to step up to run the country during Ardern’s six-week leave.

Support for the opposition National Party, with new leader Simon Bridges at the helm, rose to 44 percent from 42.7 percent.

Despite slipping behind National, Labour still had enough support to govern with the progressive Green Party, which has support of 5.9 percent and shares a support agreement with Labour.

Labour’s center-left coalition, which brought an end to almost 10 years of National’s center right rule, gained office in October, planning to pour money into social services and housing and strike a more protectionist stance by tightening up foreign investment rule.

But the government had struck a cautious note in its first budget, ramping up investment in housing and health, but holding off dramatic spending increases as it sought to repay government debt and deliver budget surpluses.

Ardern is expecting her first child on around June 16, after which she will take six weeks off. She is the first New Zealand prime minister to have a child while in office and only the second elected pregnant leader in the world after Pakistan’s Benazir Bhutto.

Reporting by Charlotte Greenfield; Editing by David Gregorio