New Zealand election ends in stalemate triggering coalition talks

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In last few hours, nearly all votes have been counted and trends show that the National party was leading with 46 per cent, while support for Labour was 35.8 per cent, the Election Commission said in a statement.

The poll showed support for the nationalist New Zealand First Party, a potential election kingmaker, dropped 1 point to 5 percent, right on the threshold a party needs to get a seat in parliament.

NZ First leader Winston Peters holds the balance of power based on the preliminary vote count in the 2017 general election, despite losing his Northland seat.

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

It sounded more like a stump speech than one created to win Winston and influence New Zealand First or one that expressed commiserations for the three MPs who have lost seats, Mojo Mathers, Barry Coates and Denise Roche. In the past, the party formed a ruling coalition with National and has been a non-cabinet ally of Labour.

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She said Labour would continue to pursue and focus on the issues they had campaigned on - housing, health and education.

"There's conversations that need to be had and we're open to those", she said.

National's 58 seats were higher than Labour and Greens put together at 52, but neither combination had enough to govern on their own.

Ardern had enjoyed a remarkable surge in popularity since taking over as opposition leader last month.

"I want to acknowledge the strong performance of Winston Peters and New Zealand First", Bill English said in a speech to his supporters. New Zealand First had "not all the cards but we do have the main cards", he added, saying he would not be rushed into giving any answers immediately. I haven't done as well for them as I would have liked.

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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.

Ardern expected the party would pick up more votes when the special votes were counted because those who enrolled at the polling booth would not yet have been counted.

While tipping a close race, he is confident National can win a fourth term, a feat no New Zealand government has achieved in more than 50 years.

Ardern is bidding to become New Zealand's youngest leader since 1856 and only the third woman to lead the South Pacific nation of 4.6 million people.

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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