Christopher Luxon
© AP Photo/Brett PhibbsNew Zealand National Party leader and Prime Minister-elect Christopher Luxon
Counting continues Tuesday in New Zealand's general election as the conservative National party seeks a coalition with a right-leaning minor party.

New Zealand politics has taken a decisive step to the right following Saturday's election. Concerns over rising living costs and an economy on the brink of recession dominated the campaign.

The outgoing Labour government's six years in power have ended in one of its heaviest defeats.

The center-right National party, led by Prime Minister-elect Christopher Luxon, a former airline boss, has started the process of forming a new government with its preferred coalition partner, the ACT party, an acronym of the Association of Consumers and Taxpayers, a conservative pressure group founded in the early 1990s.

Together they currently have 61 lawmakers in New Zealand's 121-seat parliament as the counting of votes continues.

Richard Shaw, a professor of politics at Massey University, told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. that New Zealand politics have taken a major shift after six years of a left-leaning Labour government.

"This will be a very significant shift to the right. ACT is a libertarian party," Shaw said. "The National party is a small 'c' conservative party but with a not insignificant number of conservative Christians in this caucus. This will probably be one of the more right-wing governments that we have had in contemporary political history."

A key campaign issue was the soaring cost of living fueled by the slowing economy in China, New Zealand's largest trade partner. Official figures have shown that New Zealand exported goods worth $3.18 billion to China in the June 2023 quarter, with imports from China valued at $2.12 billion.

The war in Ukraine has also made fuel, food and fertilizer more expensive in New Zealand.

The Mixed Member Proportional electoral system is used in New Zealand. Each voter casts two ballots; one for a political party and the second for their electorate.

There are more than 500,000 so-called special votes still to be counted. They include ballots cast by New Zealanders voting outside their electorate or who are overseas. The final result is due on Nov. 3.

The voting system makes it uncommon for a single party to form the government, although Labour under former Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern did so in 2020.

Ardern resigned in January and was replaced as Labour prime minister by Chris Hipkins. The National party's Luxon will be the South Pacific country's third prime minister this year.