WELLINGTON, New Zealand – Prime Minister Helen Clark courted coalition partners today after narrowly winning an election that featured a rival bid to strip special rights from indigenous Maori and dismantle nuclear-free laws in favor of stronger U.S. trade ties.
Clark’s ruling Labour Party won 50 seats in the 122-seat parliament, forcing her to form a coalition government. The main opposition National Party’s was close behind with 49 seats in the poll Saturday.
The 55-year-old Clark will become the first Labour leader since World War II to win three terms if she can agree to deals with small parties to support her in government.
She told National Radio she expects to talk with “a range of people” over the next few days and “to keep open phone lines.”
“You are looking at Labour working with a range of small parties to get something that is sustainable, durable and can keep New Zealand growing,” she added.
Clark said she wanted to “heal wounds” in New Zealand society opened up during a divisive campaign dominated by National leader Don Brash’s pledge to cut special programs aimed at the country’s impoverished Maori minority.
Brash pledged to scrap seven seats reserved for Maori lawmakers in the Parliament and abolish affirmative action and welfare policies aimed at the largely impoverished minority.