New Zealand Parliament Suspended, Minor Party Protests

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03/24/2020 | 11:19 pm

By Stephen Wright

WELLINGTON, New Zealand--A minor New Zealand opposition party has called for the legislature to continue meeting despite the coronavirus pandemic lockdown, saying scrutiny of the government is needed while it exercises extraordinary powers.

Parliament will be suspended for five weeks following a session scheduled for Wednesday afternoon, when Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is expected to issue a pandemic notice and invoke a state of emergency. New Zealand enters a four-week lockdown from midnight except for essential services and businesses.

A special committee of parliament will be established so opposition parties can continue to question the government. But the libertarian ACT Party's leader and its sole member of parliament, David Seymour, said the pandemic is "no reason to partially suspend democracy."

Mr. Seymour said the lockdown and other measures such as the closure of New Zealand's border are a historic loss of civil liberties.

"It may be necessary for the government to have these extraordinary powers," he said. "If so, it is critical that parliament is able to continue to hold the government to account."

An opinion survey by Utting Research, conducted before the government announced the lockdown on Monday, found 93% of people surveyed supported the idea.

The main opposition National Party had also called for the government to take draconian measures to curb spread of the virus and save lives.

Public health experts estimate that the more than 30,000 people would die if 60% of New Zealand's population became infected with coronavirus. New Zealand had 155 confirmed and probable coronavirus cases as of Tuesday.

 

Write to Stephen Wright at stephen.wright@wsj.com

 

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