By Charlotte Greenfield
WELLINGTON (Reuters) - New Zealand went to the polls to choose the make-up of its fifty-second Parliament on Saturday, in a close-run race between the governing National Party and the opposition Labour Party.
Doors to the polling booths opened at 0900 local time, though a record number of voters had already cast their ballots in advance. Voting would end at 1900 and the country's Electoral Commission would start releasing results half an hour later.
The center-left Labour Party, led by recently appointed 37-year-old leader Jacinda Ardern, was vying against incumbent National. The center-right governing party, led by 55-year-old Bill English, had been in power for almost a decade.
Around 986,000 ballots have already been cast, accounting for almost a third of the 3.2 million New Zealanders on the electoral rolls.
"Special votes," which includes ballots from New Zealanders overseas and those who vote outside their home constituencies, will only be released on Oct. 7.
These could have a considerable impact on the outcome, given New Zealand's large diaspora, and accounted for around 12 percent of the vote in the 2014 election.
New Zealand uses a German-style proportional representation system in which a party, or combination of parties, needs 61 of Parliament's 120 members - usually about 48 percent of the vote - to form a government. This means that minor parties often play an influential role in determining which major party governs.
(Reporting by Charlotte Greenfield)