Polls open in New Zealand general elections

Minister Bill English attends an event to promote a New Zealand lamb product at a restaurant in Hong Kong China

New Zealand's ruling National Party is set to begin talks to form a new government, CNN affiliate Radio NZ reported, after preliminary results show it leading the main opposition Labour Party in Saturday's general election.

With 46 per cent, he did nearly as well as John Key in 2014 (47.04 per cent), except English's job was tougher because he was up against Jacinda Ardern rather than David Cunliffe.

Meanwhile, Germans will vote on Sunday to determine whether Chancellor Angela Merkel will receive a fourth term in office.

Last night Bill English looked the happiest he has ever been in politics and deservedly so.

"We are going into negotiations with the intention of forming a stable government that enables this country to deliver for New Zealanders", English reportedly said.

"We have been strong enough and honest enough with our supporters to make it home", he said.

Peters, 72, a political veteran who has played the kingmaker in two previous elections, said he had an important decision to make and would not be rushed.

In 1996, he helped install a National-led government in return for being made deputy prime minister, then in 2005 he joined a Labour coalition after being given the job of foreign minister.

"No matter where tonight's result takes us, I am committed to a future we can all be proud of, a future that is better", she said to whistles and cheers of "we love you".

English - in contrast to his joke-cracking predecessor - built a reputation as a laconic and serious-minded finance minister under Key, even earning the sobriquet "Honest Bill".

With nearly 100% of votes counted National has 46% of the party vote with Labour at 35.8%.

Both parties are now courting the populist New Zealand First party, which won nine seats, to form a coalition.

"Just short of half of all New Zealanders voted National and 10 percent more than our nearest rivals".

But who New Zealand First will favour remains unclear.

Leader of the minority New Zealand First (NZF) party, Winston Peters, gave no indication which of the two blocs his party would support.

When asked how she felt about her chances during Saturday's election, Ms Ardern said, "Absolutely hopeful, we have given this campaign everything".

The 37-year-old has always been recognised for her youthful and progressive injection into New Zealand politics, since first joining the Labour Party at the age of 17. Labour would increase it, ran the National attack ads, though in truth Labour's plan was to simply not put National's pledged tax cut into effect.

Ardern is bidding to become New Zealand's youngest leader since 1856 and only the third woman to lead the South Pacific nation of 4.6 million people.

"This is going to come down to whether or not people turn out and vote", she said Friday.

"I wish I could answer your question, honestly I wish I could because I've had it asked of me 1,000 times in the last five weeks", he told Radio New Zealand this week.

"Certainly it's been somewhat frustrating dealing with their negative campaign", Ardern said.

Voter engagement was high, with more than 800,000 taking advantage of early voting by Thursday, nearly double the number who had done so at an equivalent point in the last election.

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