WELLINGTON, New Zealand — Advance voting began Monday for New Zealand’s general election, which could see a change of government in the South Pacific nation for the first time in nine years.

Election officials say just over 3 million voters are enrolled for the Sept. 23 election, in the country of nearly 5 million people.

Opinion polls indicate it will be a close race between the conservative National Party, led by Prime Minister Bill English, and the liberal Labour Party, led by Jacinda Ardern.

Six weeks ago the conservatives were comfortably ahead in the polls and appeared to be coasting to a fourth consecutive victory. But then the Labour Party leader quit and 37-year-old Ardern took the reins, sparking a rapid rise in the party’s fortunes that some are calling “Jacindamania.”

Both parties have made some expensive campaign promises. The National Party says it will reduce taxes and spend more on infrastructure. The Labour Party says it will make university free for students for the first three years.

Either of the two main parties will likely need to form alliances with smaller parties in order to govern under New Zealand’s proportional voting system.

New Zealand is benefiting from a relatively healthy economy and government budget surpluses.

Author photo
The AP is one of the largest and most trusted sources of independent newsgathering. AP is neither privately owned nor government-funded; instead, as a not-for-profit news cooperative owned by its American newspaper and broadcast members, it can maintain its single-minded focus on newsgathering and its commitment to the highest standards of objective, accurate journalism.