New Zealand is to delay its general election by a month due to the outbreak of Covid-19 in Auckland, the country’s prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, has said.
Calls had been growing from opposition parties for the election to be moved, with opposition leaders saying it wasn’t “just and fair” to hold an election while an outbreak was underway and level 3 restrictions were in place in the country’s largest city, prohibiting campaigning.
Ardern said after consulting with every political party in parliament, as well as the electoral commission, she had decided to move the general election from 19 September to 17 October.
She said her first suggestion of moving it by two weeks had been rejected by the Electoral Commission as not enough time to prepare logistics such as venues.
“The Electoral Commission, via the Ministry of Justice, has advised me that a safe and accessible election is achievable on this date,” Ardern said. “Moving the date by four weeks also gives all parties a fair shot to campaign and delivers New Zealanders certainty without unnecessarily long delays.”
Ardern said Covid-19 would be with the world “for some time to come” and repeatedly pushing the election date would not lessen the risk of disruption to voters and parties.
“This is why the Electoral Commission has planned for the possibility of holding an election where the country is at level 2, and with some parts at level 3. I will not change the election date again.”
New Zealand is in the midst of its first outbreak since eliminating the disease in June, with dozens of people infected and held in quarantine in Auckland, a city of 1.5 million.
On Monday nine news cases of Covid-19 were reported, bringing the total number of cases related to the south Auckland cluster to 58. Māori and Pasifika people have been disproportionately infected by the latest outbreak.
Five people were in hospital being treated for the disease, and the source of the outbreak remained a mystery, the ministry of health said.
“We still don’t have any particular clues as to the origin of the outbreak,” director-general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said.
“Our first focus is on the mapping the extent of it and managing the outbreak, once we have the complete picture we are much more likely to then go back and trace the origin of it.”
“We may find some clues as to where, but we may still not quite answer the question of how it was transmitted.”
Testing numbers remained at “unprecedented levels” he said.
The leader of the National party, Judith Collins, said holding an election in September would disadvantage opposition parties, and she had pushed for the election to be moved to November or next year.
“We acknowledge the new date,” Collins says.
“It was always National’s view that to have a fair, democratic election we needed to deal with this second wave of Covid-19 so politicians from all parties had a reasonable chance to present their policies, and the public felt comfortable engaging with the campaign without putting their health at risk.”
The New Zealand First leader, Winston Peters, who is also deputy prime minister and foreign minister, welcomed the new date. “New Zealand First is pleased that common sense has prevailed. We were concerned that the Covid outbreak had the effect of limiting campaigns to an unacceptably short period,” Peters said in a statement.
“Voters are sovereign. Holding an election during a Covid outbreak has the risk of serious interference in our democracy. Voters would be expected to exercise their electoral rights with a dearth of information and that is unacceptable. With a delay parties can now prepare to begin campaigning again, confident that they have the time and resources to engage in a free and fair election.”
Parliament would reconvene on Monday and then dissolve on 6 September. Advance voting would open on 3 October.
As well as voting on a new government, two referendum questions will also be on the ballot papers: whether to legalise marijuana use and whether to legalise euthanasia.