WELLINGTON - Prime Minister John Key on Monday predicted a "close" and "hard fought" New Zealand general election next month, despite opinion polls showing his party has almost twice the support of its nearest rival.
One poll put Key's conservative National Party on 50 per cent support ahead of the September 20 vote, with the opposition Labour Party on 26 per cent. Another survey had the race slightly closer at 47.5 per cent to 29.
But Key said nothing could be taken for granted under New Zealand's complicated Multi-Party Proportional (MMP) voting system, which tends to emphasise the role of minor parties and force the major players into coalition governments.
"We always know that elections are tight events under MMP," said Key, who is seeking a third term after first winning office in 2008.
"If we could poll 50 per cent on election night that would be great, but the truth is MMP is an environment that's tough, it's hard fought and its always close," he told TVNZ.
"In the end, if people want us to be there they've got to give their party vote to National." According to the One News-Colmar Brunton poll, National's 50 per cent would allow it to govern in its own right, a situation unprecedented since the German-style MMP system was introduced in 1996.
The results of the 3News-Reid Research poll would return the party to power but only with support from potential coalition partners such as the Conservative Party, currently polling with 2.5 per cent.
The One News poll rated Key's support as preferred prime minister at 45 per cent, compared to Labour leader David Cunliffe's 10 per cent, with 3News' survey putting the numbers at 44.1 per cent to 9.9 per cent.
The polls emphasise why Key's personal popularity is seen as central to his party's chances of re-election, with voters showing no sign of tiring of the former banker who has adopted a mostly moderate centre-right agenda while in office.
Meanwhile, Key dismissed allegations made in a book published last week that one of his former staffers ran a dirty tricks campaign from his office which involved feeding information to a right-wing blogger and accessing a Labour Party database.
He described the author Nicky Hager as a "left-wing conspiracy theorist" who was making unsubstantiated claims about events that took place years ago.
"At the end of the day we're five weeks out from an election. People can see that Nicky Hager's made a whole lot of things up in his book. They can see that he can't back a lot of them up," he said.