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Tense week ahead for players in unpredictable, exciting election

Opinion Piece

A tense week lies ahead for the leaders of all the main parties involved in next Saturday’s elections, although the challenges are different for the leaders of the seven parties with the best chances of getting into the next Parliament.

The tension is greatest of course for Prime Minister Bill English and Labour’s Jacinda Ardern who are both looking to be able to tell Governor General Patsy Reddy they are able to form a government.

It is probably more career-defining for English, a man who, after suffering a crushing defeat in 2002, rebuilt his career and gained vast respect for his major part in the handling of the 2008 financial crisis under the more charismatic John Key.

Jacinda Ardern has made a brilliant fist of leading Labour after her sudden elevation seven weeks ago but the party’s surge faded a little recently over taxation concerns. Labour is still well in the game however and with youth on her side, Ardern knows that with a good performance she would almost certainly get another chance in 2020.

Conversely, this looks like the last chance for New Zealand First’s Winston Peters. Once virtually certain of being the king- or queen-maker, his party has slipped in recent polls. Now 72, even he must be coming to the end of his political life.

Different kinds of pressure apply to the Greens, the Maori Party and ACT, for all of whom just getting into Parliament will be a kind of success. Gareth Morgan’s The Opportunities Party needs something of a miracle in the next few days.

While campaigning will continue and there is always the possibility of a last-minute surprise, the sometimes frantic auction between the major parties is almost surely over. It is a case now of putting in a last effort and making sure there are no slips.

This could well qualify as the most exciting election of the MMP era and must be very close to being the most unpredictable. There are only five sleeps to go and for politicians of all stripes they will be troubled ones.