Just three years after entering politics, former businessman Christopher Luxon is set to lead New Zealand to the right as prime minister-elect, ending six years of Labour-led center-left government.
The center-right National Party and preferred coalition partner ACT New Zealand won a razor-thin electoral victory on Saturday, together securing 61 seats in 121 seat parliament.
The National-ACT majority is slim and the two parties may need support from the populist New Zealand First Party to form a government. Mr. Luxon said on Monday while National was waiting for special votes to be counted, they were working on building relationships with both ACT and New Zealand First.
Mr. Luxon became leader of the National Party at the end of 2021, boosting its popularity until winning Saturday’s general election.
National won over voters by promising relief for struggling middle-income New Zealanders, and to bring historically high inflation under control while reducing the country’s debt.
“The overwhelming driver was dissatisfaction with the [Labour government],” said political commentator and former National staffer Ben Thomas.
Under former leader Jacinda Ardern, Labour in 2020 became the first party to capture an outright majority since New Zealand switched to a mixed member proportional system in 1996.
But Labour has since lost support, with many New Zealanders disgruntled over the country’s long COVID-19 lockdown and the rising cost of living.
Chris Hipkins, Ms. Ardern’s successor as prime minister, tried to re-engage with those voters, focusing on what he termed “bread-and-butter issues,” but was unable to gain traction in the polls.
While National and ACT have the numbers to form a government on the current count, roughly 567,000 special votes, around 20% of the total, must still be counted. The official result is due on Nov. 3, and conservative parties have historically lost at least a seat with the final count.
Mr. Luxon, a relative newcomer to politics and former airline executive, told a press conference on Monday National would be waiting for the special votes to be counted before officially forming a government.
“We are working very strongly to build relationships and also to work through arrangements with respective parties. We are going to do that confidentially,” he said.
He added he would ideally like to have a government formed before the Pacific Island Forum and Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meetings in early November but that this will depend on the special votes and how negotiations have progressed.
New Zealand is currently being governed by a transitional government run by Labour.
Mr. Luxon, a protege of former prime minister John Key, said the process of transition between the two governments was under way but would not comment on current issues such as New Zealand’s response to Israel’s intense bombardment of Gaza, as that is the responsibility of the Labour government, he said.
Labour’s losses were significant, with some high-profile members of the party failing to hold onto their seats. Nanaia Mahuta, the foreign minister, lost her constituency seat and will not be returning to parliament.
Newly elected members of parliament are also in Wellington on Monday to begin their induction to parliament.
This story was reported by Reuters.