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Voting – Poll – Preferred PM – Tax And Growth – Delamere – Winston – Election Column – Leaders – Waipareira – Child Abuse – Britomart – Arson – Gisborne Cancer – Editorial

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VOTING: Adem Bedasso will stride proudly to his local polling place tomorrow knowing that - finally - he can vote for the party and candidate of his choice. The last time the 27-year-old Ethiopian voted in an election, his mind was made up for him. But now, as a brand new Kiwi, he is savouring the democratic freedoms that New Zealanders take for granted.

POLL: Labour and the Alliance are poised to govern into the new century with the help of the Greens, after an election-eve New Zealand Herald-DigiPoll survey showing National still lagging a long way behind and sliding towards defeat. Translated into seats, this week's poll would give Labour and its centre-left allies a comfortable13-seat majority in the next Parliament. The main feature of the latest poll is the10-point gap between the two major parties. Jenny Shipley's four weeks on the hustings have failed to lift National's support, which remains marooned around 30 per cent. Labour is now touching 40 per cent in a poll that has a margin of error of 3.3 per cent. Nearly 44 per cent of voters expressing a party choice said they had made up their minds at some point during the campaign, suggesting National has had little impact on floating voters.

PREFERRED PM: The gap between the two women vying to be queen of the Beehive has narrowed slightly in the past week but Helen Clark remains the country's preferred Prime Minister. Labour's leader attracted the support of 29.1 per cent of those questioned in the latest Herald-DigiPoll survey, with the incumbent, National's Jenny Shipley, on 26.

TAX AND GROWTH: In their leaders' debates Jenny Shipley and Helen Clark have crossed swords over whether there is a link between tax rates and economic growth. Name a country, challenged Mrs Shipley, where raising taxes was good for growth. There is just no evidence the two are linked was Helen Clark's reply. Most developed countries had higher top tax rates than New Zealand.

DELAMERE: News of Tuariki Delamere's sacking spread slowly around his Waiariki electorate yesterday, but those who had heard largely condemned his actions involving Chinese investors. An informal survey of Whakatane, Te Teko and Kawerau found voters on the Maori roll disagreed with the former Minister of Immigration, who faces a tight race tomorrow against Labour candidate Mita Ririnui.

DELAMERE: National yesterday stalled the Chinese investment scheme at the centre of Tuariki Delamere's sacking as Minister of Immigration. On the heels of his dismissal, Mr Delamere aggressively campaigned at Parliament yesterday with fellow Mana Maori candidates Tame Iti and Ken Mair.

WINSTON: True to form, Winston Peters was at his tenacious best yesterday trying to expose corruption in high places. He had a full, if rather low-key, local programme planned for the closing stages of his campaign to retain Tauranga, which he has held for 15 years and - if the polls are to be believed - could lose tomorrow.

ELECTION COLUMN: Election campaigns are now dominated by two things. We have become poll-driven fruitcakes (to steal David Lange's line), and then there's all those television debates. On both these fronts Prime Minister Jenny Shipley has suffered. She never got the psychological break she needed, as no poll during the campaign showed National ahead. She performed adequately in the debates, but never won one.

LEADERS: In the final hours before tomorrow's poll, political leaders stuck doggedly to their scripts in a desperate scramble for votes. Prime Minister Jenny Shipley, her party behind in the polls and dogged by political distractions, flew around the country yesterday urging voters not to risk economic stability for a Labour-led government.

WAIPEREIRA: An audit of the Waipareira Trust shows it has had a difficult financial year and needs to tighten internal controls. New Zealand First leader Winston Peters has made public a leaked draft report by accountants PricewaterhouseCoopers and other documents that raise concerns about aspects of the community trust's operations.

CHILD ABUSE: Families of children sexually abused for 13 years by a South Auckland man who was locked away for nine years yesterday say they have nothing but loathing for him. "They have just got contempt and hatred for him," said Detective Albie Alexander after the sentencing at the High Court in Auckland.

BRITOMART: Auckland City councillors were talking about Britomart again last night, trying to sort out what can be done easily for a new downtown transport interchange. The previous $164 million Britomart scheme collapsed on November 2 and city officials are looking at new options.

ARSON: A former senior firefighter has been jailed for five years after admitting 21 arsons over five years in West Auckland. Laingholm businessman Keith James Raymond, aged 41, was sentenced in the Waitakere District Court yesterday after initial confusion over whether he had been coerced into admitting the charges.

GISBORNE CANCER: Doctors' records appear to show a Gisborne woman died after her cervical smears were misread in the 1980s - giving fuel to those wanting to broaden a ministerial inquiry into botched readings. The inquiry and a Health Funding Authority retesting programme are looking only into Gisborne smears dating to 1991.

EDITORIAL: Tomorrow it is over to us. The claims, accusations and exhortations of the past four weeks will be out of the news and the quiet of the polling booth will prevail. What to do? The choice can appear more complicated because there are two selections to make, but it is not. Only one vote really matters. The vote for the party alone is decisive. The vote for the person to represent the electorate, the more familiar vote to us, is now of no importance to the construction of the next government, except in one or two places, such as Coromandel, where polls tell us the choice of a Green candidate could give that party pivotal power. Anybody with the slightest doubt about which vote is the more important should observe the advertising of all political parties. Without exception, they want your party vote. Not all want your electorate vote as well. The Alliance, for example, is openly urging an electorate vote for Labour. Do not be fooled. That is not a magnanimous gesture to a potential coalition partner. It is designed to give traditional Labour voters the false impression that they can safely vote for the Labour candidate as they have always done, and give their new vote to the Alliance. The more of them who fall for that, the weaker Labour would be.

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