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Clark close to deal on NZ government

Clark will still need to rely on minor parties to pass legislation  

By Grant Holloway
CNN Sydney

WELLINGTON, New Zealand -- New Zealanders are likely to know the make-up of their new government by the end of this week with Labour Prime Minister Helen Clark planning to operate without the support of the Greens party.

Political pundits in the capital, Wellington, say Clark is close to striking a deal with the family-orientated United Future party which would guarantee her a parliamentary majority for votes on money supply and confidence issues.

Clark returned to Wellington Wednesday to resume talks on the composition of the new government with the Greens and United Future.

But a spokesman for the prime minister refused to confirm speculation an announcement was imminent.

A report on Radio New Zealand Wednesday suggested a deal with United Future would be announced by Friday.

Parliament is scheduled to resume in Wellington's Beehive building on August 20.

Clark's left-leaning Labour party won 52 of 120 seats in last month's national poll while United Future gained nine seats, up from just one in the 1999 election.

GM foods

Together with Labour's coalition partner, Progressive Coalition, which won two seats, support from United Future means Clark does not need to rely on the eight Greens members to form government.

While philosophically aligned on many policies, Labour and the Greens are bitterly opposed on the issue of genetically modified foods.

The Greens have threatened to try and bring down the Clark government over its plans to lift a moratorium on the development of genetically modified crops in New Zealand.

The issue is an emotive one for New Zealand's 4 million-strong population because of the nation's heavy economic dependence on agricultural exports and its image as a clean, green "natural" environment.

Key policies

The moratorium is due to be lifted in October next year and allow for some strictly controlled experimentation and development of genetically modified crops and foodstuffs.

United Future has adopted a policy of "extreme caution" on genetic modification but it does not advocate a total ban.

Clark is not expected to form a formal coalition with United Future, however, instead running a minority government which will need to negotiate numbers with various minor parties to ensure legislation is passed.

The Greens have indicated they are prepared to work with Labour on legislation regardless of the outcome of this week's talks.

If United Future promises support for Labour then it is possible it will be given a significant role in the preparation of legislation and gain reciprocal support for some of its own key policies.

These include the establishment of a "commission for the family" and increased funding for education and health.

New Zealand adopted a "mixed member proportional" voting system in 1996.




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