Prime Minister Helen Clark called elections for Nov 8, tying her claim to a historic fourth term in New Zealand to strong environmental credentials amid a faltering economy and rising support for the conservative opposition.
Already among the longest-serving elected women leaders in the world, Clark is hoping she can extend her nine years in office for another three years and equal the record for New Zealand's longest-serving leader in a century.
"I do believe the future of New Zealand is at stake," Clark told a news conference on Friday at which she announced the election date. "I believe that Labour has shown through its record in office that we can be trusted with the future of New Zealand."
Clark, 58, faces an uphill battle, with recent opinion polls showing that the conservative National Party has its best chance in a decade of winning the elections in the South Pacific nation of about 4.3 million people.
John Key, the 47-year-old head of the National Party, is a multimillionaire former investment banker and currency trader with a fresh team that includes only a few former ministers from its time in government in the 1990s.
Trailing the National Party by 10 points in recent polls, Clark's center-left government is suffering from voter fatigue after nine years in power, amid a widespread feeling that change is needed.
Despite presiding over the longest period of growth in a generation, Labour is going into the election with the economy in recession and facing "a difficult" next two years, according to the nation's central bank.