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Sep 20, 2014 5:22 AM

New Zealand prime minister's party in early lead

The Associated Press

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) New Zealand Prime Minister John Key's center-right National Party was leading Saturday's general election by a wide margin in early vote counting in his bid for a third term in office.

With polls closed, Key's party had 49 percent of the vote, while its closest rival, the liberal Labour Party, had only 24 percent. Should the results hold, Key would return with a government that has a similar look to the existing one. Full results are expected late Saturday night.

Under New Zealand's proportional system, parties typically must form coalitions to govern. Early voting indicated several coalition options for Key, and even the possibility that his party could win outright. In the last election three years ago, the National Party won 47 percent of the vote.

Supporters say Key's party has managed the economy well during six years in office. It has been growing at a 4 percent clip, while unemployment has dropped to 5.6 percent.

David Cunliffe, leader of the Labour Party, had pledged to build tens of thousands of inexpensive homes for first-time buyers to try and combat a pricey housing market, and raise the minimum wage.

The campaign was marked by a scandal after investigative journalist and liberal activist Nicky Hager published the book "Dirty Politics," which exposed the extent of the National Party's links with a conservative blogger. Justice Minister Judith Collins resigned from her ministerial portfolios after Key said she colluded with the blogger to try to undermine the director of the Serious Fraud Office, whom Collins oversaw.

Also contesting the election is a party funded by indicted Internet entrepreneur Kim Dotcom, who founded the now-shuttered website Megaupload. Dotcom is fighting attempts by U.S. prosecutors to extradite him on racketeering charges over the site, which prosecutors say was used to illegally download enormous numbers of songs and movies.

Dotcom says he can't be held responsible for those who chose to use his site for illegal downloads.

Early voting was too close to call on whether Dotcom's Internet Mana Party would get enough support to enter the Parliament.


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