National leader Judith Collins said she called Ardern to concede defeat and congratulate her on an “outstanding result” for the Labour Party.
Final results will be released in three weeks once special votes — including those cast by New Zealanders living overseas — are counted. Those results could affect the final allocation of seats in parliament.
The preliminary count also shows a major swing to the left, with Labour picking up a significant boost on last election’s 37%, while its current coalition partner the Green Party won 8% — or 10 seats — up on last election’s 6%.
Ahead of the election, Victoria University politics lecturer Claire Timperley said Labour would be “foolish” not to have a conversation with the Greens about working together, even if Labour won an outright majority.
Labour’s other current coalition partner New Zealand First has not secured enough votes to make it back into parliament, while the right-wing ACT party won 10 seats with 8% of the vote, up on last election’s 0.5%.
Ardern’s reelection was buoyed by her “go hard and go early” approach to handling the coronavirus which has helped New Zealand avoid the devastating outbreaks seen elsewhere. The country was one of the first to close its borders, and Ardern announced a nationwide lockdown in March when it only had 102 cases.
New Zealand has reported fewer than 2,000 total cases and 25 deaths since the pandemic began.
Labour Party supporters watch results come in and wait for Jacinda Ardern to arrive during an election night event at Auckland Town Hall in Auckland, New Zealand, on October 17, 2020.
At the start of the year, polls suggested National and Labour could be in for a tight election. Ardern had huge international popularity, but back home some were disappointed by her lack of progress on key promises, including on addressing the overheated housing market.
But that all changed during the pandemic. Support for Ardern soared, even as New Zealand posted its largest quarterly economic decline on record and a second outbreak in the country’s largest city, Auckland, prompted the PM to delay the election by a month.
“We always knew it was going to be tough, didn’t we?” Collins said during her concession speech on Saturday. “We will take time to reflect, and we will review, and we will change. National will reemerge from this loss a stronger, more disciplined and more connected party.