‘It’s a drag race’: Voting under way in knife-edge New Zealand election

New Zealand was voting Saturday in a cliffhanger election pitting conservative Prime Minister Bill English against charismatic young rival Jacinda Ardern.

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The campaign has been the most volatile in recent memory, with momentum swinging from English to Ardern and then back again. 

“This election is going to be really close … it’s a drag race between the two big parties,” English said on the hustings Friday, conceding a large undecided vote could prove key.

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No party has claimed a majority government in New Zealand’s 120-seat parliament since proportional voting was adopted in 1996 and this election is unlikely to change that.

Opinion polls show either English’s conservative National Party or Ardern’s centre-left Labour could be in a position to form a government late Saturday.

Another possibility is that there will be no winner on the night with both major parties seeking coalition partners to get them over the line.

If that happens, populist anti-immigration campaigner Winston Peters New Zealand First party looms as a potential kingmaker.

Polling booths opened at 9am local time (2100 GMT Friday) and will close at 7pm (0700 GMT).

What do you do on #nzelection day if you can’t talk to voters? @jacindaardern: paint the front fence. @pmbillenglish: coffeeshop photo op. pic南京夜生活,/b0jfk5M0yS

— Nastasya Tay (@NastasyaTay) September 23, 2017

There are 3.2 million registered voters, more than a million of whom cast their ballots early.

Ardern is hoping a high youth vote will counter her recent dip in the polls and has visited universities across the country encouraging students to cast their ballots.

“This is going to come down to whether or not people turn out and vote,” she said Friday.

Candidates do not publicly comment on election day Saturday because of strict Electoral Commission rules banning publication of political material while polling booths are open.

The blackout restricts media reporting to how and where to vote and means there are no exit polls to give the country a gauge of how the election is progressing.

0:00 National Party ahead of Labour before poll Share National Party ahead of Labour before poll

‘Jacinda-mania’

English’s National Party was in the driving seat to win a fourth term until Ardern took over the Labour Party last month.

The 37-year-old galvanised support for the ailing centre-left party, giving it a 20-point popularity boost to bring it level with National.

Arden accuses the government of inertia, saying that after three terms it has run out of ideas on issues such as housing affordability and protecting the environment. 

Her policy platform includes free tertiary education and slashing immigration to reduce pressure on housing and infrastructure. 

Ardern is bidding to become New Zealand’s youngest leader since 1856 and only the third woman to lead the South Pacific nation of 4.6 million people. 

But the “Jacinda-mania” phenomenon waned as English attacked her financial credibility while pointing to his economic record over the past nine years.

The 55-year-old ex-farmer and father-of-six, who took over as prime minister when John Key stepped down last December, argues only National can maintain strong economic growth.

English also wants to make amends for his last leadership foray in 2002, when National slumped to a record defeat and won barely 20 percent of the vote. 

0:00 Jacinda vs Bill: The race for New Zealand Share Jacinda vs Bill: The race for New Zealand

While tipping a close race, he is confident National can win a fourth term, a feat no New Zealand government has achieved in more than 50 years. 

The wildcard for both English and Ardern is Peters, whose party could decide the outcome of the election if it is as tight as polls predict. 

The 72-year-old political veteran has shown in the past that he will back either side if the right offer is made.

In 1996, he helped instal a National-led government in return for being made deputy prime minister, then in 2005 he joined a Labour coalition after being given the job of foreign minister. 

He has been coy about who he would support in this election, adding another layer of uncertainty to a white-knuckle vote.

0:00 Up to the voters now: Ardern Share Up to the voters now: Ardern

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Oil the key to North Korea crisis: Bishop

The “game changer” in the sanctions effort to force North Korea to the negotiating table and deter its nuclear ambitions is China reducing oil exports to the rogue regime, Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop says.

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Ms Bishop, at an Asia Society event hosted by former political rival and prime minister Kevin Rudd in New York on Friday, said China, North Korea’s most important trading partner, was “engaged in very serious dialogue” with the US on finding a solution to the crisis.

“I actually believe oil is the game changer in the sanctions regime,” Ms Bishop said.

“China is clearly open to using its undoubted leverage – economic leverage.

“I’m not suggesting diplomatic, but economic leverage over North Korea and from my discussions with the US administration I’m confident the US and China are engaged in very serious dialogue about how they are going to bring North Korea to the negotiating table.”

Ms Bishop has been in New York the past week representing Australia at the United Nations General Assembly.

She has had discussions with US President Donald Trump, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley.

Ms Bishop praised Mr Trump for persuading China to become involved in the effort to force North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to end his nuclear and missile program.

“It’s worth noting up until the Trump administration’s inauguration China was of the view that this was not their problem,” Ms Bishop said.

“This was an issue between Pyongyang and Washington.

“I think China has now become part of the group working on the solution.”

On September 11 the UN Security Council, including permanent member China, approved stringent sanctions on North Korea including reducing about 30 per cent of oil provided to North Korea.

China is the main supplier of oil to North Korea.

“I think economic sanctions will get tougher,” Ms Bishop said.

“The United States has announced they will do more.

“I believe China will do more and we need Russia to be inside the tent and Australia of course will play its part.”

We can pick India’s ODI spinners: Warner

David Warner has rejected suggestions Australia’s batsmen can’t pick India’s spinners ahead of Sunday’s must-win one-day international.

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Australia are reeling at 0-2 after another batting collapse had scotched any hope of levelling the series in Kolkata.

Spin has claimed 10 of the 19 Australian wickets to fall in the first two games and India will be full of confidence ahead of Sunday’s third match in Indore where India could clinch the series.

Left-armer Kuldeep Yadav, who became the third Indian bowler to snare a hat-trick in Thursday’s match in Kolkata, believes he has the wood on Warner.

In five innings facing the 22-year-old, Warner has been out to him four times.

While he didn’t face Kuldeep in game two, Warner misread a wrong’un in Chennai before nicking a slider to the keeper.

That’s the exception rather than the rule, according to the powerful opener.

“I find that the players can read them and there’s the odd one or two that you probably can’t see the seam and then the players react off the wicket,” Warner said.

“If you get off to a good start and the spinners come on, it’s a different game.”

Much has been made of Australia’s deficiencies against spin on the subcontinent.

But Warner isn’t making excuses for the senior contingent who are no strangers to Indian conditions.

“You should know the conditions very well,” Warner said.

“In saying that, when you’re out there, it’s totally different. You become tentative.

“The game situation dictates. If you lose a couple of wickets, what do you do? Do you use your feet? Do you play with one stride?

“They’re the things that you have to work out and adapt when you’re here.”

Aaron Finch is in the mix to partner Warner in the third ODI after training strongly on Saturday.

He could force Hilton Cartwright out of the side, while Peter Handscomb might also be considered, with a flat wicket and short boundaries at the Holkar Stadium.

Thousands in UK sign ‘save uber’ petition

Save Your Uber in London was set up on the Change.

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org website after it was announced the firm would not have its licence renewed when it expires on September 30.

The petition had gained more than 400,000 signatures by Friday evening, just hours after being launched.

TfL said Uber was “not fit and proper” to operate in the capital and that it took the decision on the grounds of “public safety and security implications”.

But Uber, which is used by 3.5 million people and 40,000 drivers in London, hit back, saying it would appeal and claiming the move “would show the world that, far from being open, London is closed to innovative companies”.

A union representing Uber drivers said its members face going bust as they rely on money from fares to pay for their cars.

Uber enables users to book cars using their smartphones and is available in more than 40 towns and cities across the UK.

Despite its popularity there had been growing speculation the app could be banned in the city.

Opponents of the firm claim it causes gridlocked roads and does not do enough to regulate drivers.

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said he wants London to be “at the forefront of innovation and new technology” but insisted that companies must “play by the rules”.

He went on: “Providing an innovative service must not be at the expense of customer safety and security.

“I fully support TfL’s decision – it would be wrong if TfL continued to license Uber if there is any way that this could pose a threat to Londoners’ safety and security.

“Any operator of private hire services in London needs to play by the rules.”

Uber’s general manager in London Tom Elvidge claimed users of its app “will be astounded by this decision”.

He said: “By wanting to ban our app from the capital, Transport for London and the mayor have caved in to a small number of people who want to restrict consumer choice.

“If this decision stands, it will put more than 40,000 licensed drivers out of work and deprive Londoners of a convenient and affordable form of transport.

Last month, Uber was accused by police of allowing a driver who sexually assaulted a passenger to strike again by not reporting the attack, along with other serious crimes.

Moody’s downgrades UK’s rating on Brexit

Ratings agency Moody’s has downgraded Britain’s credit rating, saying the government’s plans to bring down its heavy debt load had been knocked off course and Brexit would weigh on the economy.

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A few hours after Prime Minister Theresa May set out plans on Friday for new ties with the European Union, Moody’s cut the rating by a further notch to Aa2, underscoring the economic risks that leaving the bloc poses for the world’s fifth-biggest economy.

Britain has worked down its budget deficit from about 10 per cent of economic output in 2010, shortly after the global financial crisis hammered the country, to 2.3 per cent.

But Moody’s – which stripped Britain of its top-notch AAA rating in 2013 – said the outlook for public finances had weakened significantly as May’s government softened the austerity drive of former prime minister David Cameron and his finance minister George Osborne.

The government hit back, saying Moody’s assessment of the Brexit hit to the economy was “outdated” and that May had set out an “ambitious vision for the UK’s future relationship with the EU” in her speech on Friday.

But a Moody’s official said the speech made no difference to the agency’s gloomy long-term view for Britain’s economy.

“Having looked at Theresa May’s speech, I don’t think there is anything in there which would in any way make us change our assessment,” Alastair Wilson, managing director of global sovereign risk at Moody’s, told BBC radio on Saturday.

“Over the next few years, we have a lot less confidence that the UK’s government is going to be able to fulfil its plans to bring the debt load back down, and this is an extremely high debt load that the UK has, or to be able to achieve some form of agreement with the EU which retains a substantial share of the rights that membership of the EU grants,” he said.

Moody’s verdict will be grim reading for May and her finance minister Philip Hammond, who is under pressure to spend more in his budget plan, due in November.

After seven years of austerity, a recent relaxation of a tight public sector pay cap for police and prison workers was likely to be broadened, Moody’s said.

“Overall, Moody’s expects spending to be significantly higher than under the government’s current budgetary plans,” Moody’s said.

Moody’s said it was no longer confident that Britain would secure a replacement free trade agreement with the EU which substantially mitigated the Brexit hit.

The sheer workload of Brexit in the coming years meant the government would struggle to fix Britain’s weak productivity growth, the Achilles heel of the economy, it said.

Britain’s government said Moody’s move brought it into line with the other major credit ratings agencies, Fitch and Standard & Poor’s.