WELLINGTON (Reuters) – New Zealand Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters called on Sunday for a delay to the planned September general election, given an abrupt reappearance of COVID-19 in the country, increasing pressure on Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to postpone the vote.
Last week’s resurgence of the infections in Auckland – after the country had been free of infections of the new coronavirus for 102 days – was compromising the ability to hold a “free and fair election” on Sept. 19, Peters, the leader of the New Zealand First party, wrote in a letter to Ardern.
Peters, who delivered government to Ardern’s Labour party through a coalition deal after a 2017 election failed to result in a majority for the National or Labour parties, suggested Oct. 17 and Nov. 21 as alternative dates.
On Sunday, New Zealand recorded 13 confirmed infections, bringing the number of active cases to 69. Ardern put Auckland, the country’s largest city with a population of 1.7 million, under a two-week lockdown last week.
The opposition National Party also wants a delay, hoping that Ardern, who had garnered much praise for crushing the pandemic, would lose some of her lustre once hardships caused by the Auckland lockdown begin to bite.
Ardern, who has been seen as largely resisting the calls for a delay, is set to decide by Monday.
“The prime minister has proactively sought the views of the leaders of every political party represented in parliament this afternoon about the election date,” said a representative for Ardern. “A range of views have been expressed that the prime minister has taken on board.”
The source of the recent outbreak remains under investigation.
Peters said that “the border remains the likely source of the outbreak,” suggesting a breach in quarantine procedures of people returning from abroad.
(Reporting by Praveen Menon in Wellington; Writing by Lidia Kelly in Melbourne; Editing by William Mallard)