Gloves off as New Zealand general election looms

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Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - WELLINGTON, Sept 19 — New Zealand Prime Minister Chris Hipkins warned the country today against a change of leadership as he fights to reverse his party’s flagging fortunes ahead of a national election on October 14.

Hipkins was handed the reins of power after Jacinda Ardern’s shock resignation in January, but his scandal-prone government has become increasingly unpopular with Kiwi voters.

In the first televised election debate this evening with conservative opponent Christopher Luxon, Hipkins tried to present himself as having the experience New Zealand needs to get through the current economic turbulence.

He outlined what he said was a 10-point plan to tame inflation, also attacking plans by Luxon’s National Party to raise funds by taxing overseas buyers of luxury New Zealand homes.

“You don’t make housing more affordable by bringing back foreign millionaires,” he added.

Luxon, a former airline executive, said the country was sick of spiralling crime rates and unaffordable housing — issues that had worsened during the Labour government’s six years in power.

“This election is all about the economy and which party can rebuild it and reduce the cost of living, so you can get ahead,” the centre-right National party leader said.

“New Zealanders watching know we’re going backwards and the economy is in bad shape. This election, you can vote for change.”

Polls show Luxon’s National party holding a significant lead over Hipkins’ government.

New Zealand’s economy has been battered by soaring inflation and officially tipped into recession in June this year.

Voters are increasingly fed up with the rising cost of food staples, the shortage of rental housing, and high fuel costs.

Hipkins has endured a difficult first eight months as prime minister. Just two days after he was sworn in, New Zealand’s largest city Auckland was hit by devastating floods that killed four people.

Cyclone Gabrielle pummelled large areas of the North Island barely a fortnight later, leaving a trail of destruction and claiming 11 lives.

Hipkins has also had to continually reshuffle his cabinet, with four ministers either resigning or being fired for misdemeanours during what he described as a “messy” few months for his government. — AFP

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