New Zealand’s prime minister John Key has put rugby before politics, telling the nation he had fixed a general election date after the world cup.
Calling an election so far in advance is highly unusual but Mr Key said he did not want politics to interfere with New Zealand’s hosting of the huge rugby event in September and October.
Mr Key’s centre-right government holds a strong lead over the opposition Labour Party and is expected to comfortably win a second three-year term when New Zealanders vote on November 26. An election had been due some time this year.
The prime minister said the rugby world cup would be the biggest event New Zealand had staged and he did not “want to undermine that by playing politics with the election date”.
The world cup is being held from September 9-October 23 at various venues around the country and is expected to be hugely popular among rugby-obsessed New Zealanders.
Mr Key said the November 26 election date “gives the public clarity”.
“The rugby world cup is a huge opportunity for New Zealand, the biggest event it has ever staged, and we can showcase the country to billions of viewers. I don’t want to undermine that by playing politics with the election date,” he said.
Nevertheless his announcement is unusual because New Zealand governments typically delay the announcement of elections to keep political rivals guessing and to give themselves a head start in campaigning.
Labour Party leader Phil Goff said his party would be ready for the campaign, though its poll ratings have been low since it was swept from power in 2008 after three straight terms.
Mr Key has unprecedented popularity since he became prime minister in 2008. His personal popularity has also lifted his government to consistently high poll ratings.