WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) – New Zealand won’t legalize marijuana after the final votes are counted on Friday in a referendum that failed to topple the results from election night – although it is close.
The referendum to legalize the drug ended with 48% in favor and 51% against, a tightening rate from election night of 46% in favor and 53% in opposition. The special votes listed after the October 17 election included those who were elected abroad and made up about 17% of the total votes.
Special votes also slightly increased the majority of Liberal Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and her Labor Party, which ended with just over 50% of the total vote and 65 of the 120 seats of Congress.
This is the first time any party has had a majority in the National Assembly since New Zealand introduced a proportional voting system 24 years ago. And this was the first time any party had won a majority of the votes since 1951.
The resounding victory reflects Ardern’s broad endorsement of the coronavirus pandemic. The conservative National Party, the main opposition, ended with just 26% of the vote and 33 seats in Congress.
Ardern and the top lawmakers in her Cabinet were sworn in on Friday in a ceremony conducted by Governor-General Patsy Reddy. Ardern has warned his colleagues about the problems they face with the virus and the economic slowdown.
“You’re going to thoroughly manage one of the most difficult times in New Zealand’s history,” Ardern said.
New Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson will be the first openly gay man to play the role. He will also continue his previous job as finance minister.
Ardern has also appointed a number of indigenous Maori lawmakers to top positions, including Nanaia Mahuta, who will take on the foreign minister and Kelvin Davis, who will serve as children’s minister.
The final vote count results barely changed the level of support for the second referendum to allow euthanasia, which won with 65% approval.
Nearly 3 million people voted in the election and the turnout rate is 82%, the highest number in more than 20 years. Like 65 seats won by Labor and 33 seats of the State, the Free Green Party won 10 seats, the liberal ACT Party won 10 seats and the native Maori Party won 2 seats.
While the Labor Party may rule alone, it has signed an agreement with the Green Party to work together on climate, environmental and children’s health issues. Two Green Party lawmakers have also been given ministerial roles outside of the Cabinet.