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Fierce NZ election enters final stretch -

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Fierce NZ election enters final stretch

The World Today - Wednesday, 29 October , 2008 12:42:00

ELEANOR HALL: Now to another election a little closer to home. In 10 days' time, New Zealanders
will cast their votes. And while the campaign might not be quite as closely scrutinized as the one
in the United States, the contest is just as fierce.

Labour Prime Minister Helen Clark has been well behind the National Party in opinion polls but in
recent weeks the gap has been narrowing.

As New Zealand correspondent Kerri Ritchie reports.

KERRI RITCHIE: It's hard to believe but one in every 11 New Zealanders lives in Australia.

While most eyes are fixed on the United States, Kiwis around the world are watching their own
election campaign very closely.

Helen Clark has been Prime Minister for nine years. She sets a cracking pace on the campaign trail
and has been criss-crossing the country.

Yesterday she was speaking to students near Nelson in the South Island.

HELEN CLARK: Well thank you Damien, and as Damien said, we're pretty active out on the campaign
trail at the moment.

KERRI RITCHIE: Today she's near Wellington announcing a new project to widen rail tunnels.

Her main rival in this election is National Party leader John Key. He was up early this morning to
appear on Television New Zealand's breakfast show.

He might be a political newcomer, but John Key looked confident and the small talk with the two
presenters came easily.

JOHN KEY: Lovely to be here,

TV PRESENTER: Thank you very much

TV PRESENTER 2: Lovely to have you here too, lovely.

JOHN KEY: I'll bring you in a cake each..

TV PRESENTER 2: Could you just get Mark Alexander to bake me up an apple and cinnamon cake?

JOHN KEY: He's actually an outstanding chef.

KERRI RITCHIE: Ever since New Zealand introduced its mixed member proportional electoral system in
1996, one single party has never governed in its own right. The major parties have always needed
help from the minor parties to get the numbers.

Last election, New Zealand First leader Winston Peters was the kingmaker. For helping Helen Clark
across the line, Mr Peters was rewarded with the job of Foreign Minister.

This time the polls show the Maori and Green parties could be the decision-makers. There are a lot
of deals being done behind closed doors.

Helen Clark has seen it all before.

HELEN CLARK: Once the election campaign is launched everybody is out there paddling their own waka
towards the finishing line. I know that if we we're in a position, and I hope we will be, to be
forming a government, that there will be a lot of interest from across the spectrum except for
(inaudible) national in wanting to be on board that train.

KERRI RITCHIE: The National Party has already said it won't do any deals with Winston Peters and
his New Zealand First party, post election, even if John Key needs the numbers.

It's a gamble but John Key says he won't change his mind.

JOHN KEY: We won't, and the reason for that is if Winston Peters holds the balance of power, that's
the argument, he is the kingmaker, he is going with Labour and I actually think he was always going
with Labour.

And this has been a very cosy relationship amongst all these guys, we're not going to be calling
him after the election.

KERRI RITCHIE: Helen Clark suffered a blow earlier this week when a minister in her coalition
government announced he was switching sides.

Peter Dunne is the Revenue Minister and leader of the United Future Party.

Mr Dunne believes New Zealanders want change, he says he will only support a government formed by
the National Party.

Helen Clark says she isn't bothered, she's also seen this before.

HELEN CLARK: Prior to the last election we had the same situation, a cup of coffee between Peter
Dunne and the leader of the National Party and hey presto, within five weeks Peter Dunne was a
minister in a labour led government.

KERRI RITCHIE: John Key was asked on breakfast television what promises he's been forced to make in
his desire to become prime minister.

TV PRESENTER: Have you (inaudible).. very strong in the cabinet position.

JOHN KEY: Peter Dunne? I would envisage he would be a cabinet minister.

TV PRESENTER: So you have offered him a cabinet position?

JOHN KEY: There's no formal deal, but the same thing -

TV PRESENTER: But you've talked to him? So, you've offered him a cabinet position?

JOHN KEY: Yeah, well I...

KERRI RITCHIE: The deals are sure to continue right up to election day on November the 8th.

One party could still obtain a majority on the night, but if New Zealand's history is anything to
go by, it's far more likely that the minor parties will play a crucial role in the outcome.

This is Kerri Ritchie in Auckland reporting for The World Today.