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NSW by-elections party leaders’ first test

A year before NSW heads to the polls in a general election, the state’s freshly-appointed major party leaders will face their first electoral test.

Voters will cast their ballots on Saturday in four by-elections, after a wave of high-profile resignations last year, triggered when former premier Gladys Berejiklian quit under a cloud of corruption allegations.

The polls set up a key test for both Liberal Premier Dominic Perrottet and Labor Leader Chris Minns.

Both were recently elevated to their position – neither elected by constituents – and both are painting their parties as the underdogs.

Mr Perrottet faces a number of stumbling blocks on his path to retain the coalition’s three seats.

There is the usual swing against the government in by-elections, the loss of popular and senior MPs, as well as scrutiny of his handling of the surging Omicron wave that hit just as COVID-weary people took their summer break.

The government is already in minority after two of its MPs were forced to the cross bench by allegations, leaving the coalition with 46 of 93 seats in the Legislative Assembly.

A loss of any further seats would force it to rely more heavily on the votes of more independent or minor party MPs.

The stakes are also high for Mr Minns.

Just months before Mr Perrottet ascended to the state’s top office, Mr Minns in June became Labor Party leader after Jodi McKay quit, alleging years of destabilisation from some within her own ranks.

Mr Minns has pitched himself as the man to make Labor a real election chance after more than a decade in opposition.

But with the move prompting Ms McKay to resign from politics altogether in October, Mr Minns could face backlash in her old electorate of Strathfield.

The seat has the slimmest margin of those up for grabs, with Labor winning it by just five per cent at the 2019 election.

Former United Nations lawyer turned investment firm chairman Jason Yat-sen Li will fight to keep it in Labor’s hands, arguing he’s the best pick for the diverse electorate.

Bridget Sakr – whose 11-year-old daughter was killed along with three of her cousins when they were hit by a drunk and drugged driver in 2020 – is running in the seat for the Liberals.

The businesswoman says she wants to become her community’s local MP to “repay their love, kindness and generosity”, shown to her after the death of her daughter.

The other key electorate to watch is Bega, on the state’s south coast, which the Liberals hold with a 6.9 per cent margin.

Labor has never won the seat, which was occupied by popular local Andrew Constance for almost 20 years before he announced his resignation in October.

Farmer and former teacher Fiona Kotvojs is running against Labor’s Michael Holland, a local gynaecologist and obstetrician.

Nichole Overall and Bryce Wilson will face off in Monaro for the Nationals and Labor respectively.

Former deputy premier John Barilaro held the seat by an 11.6 per cent margin, though the seat was marginal until the last election.

Labor is not running in the north Sydney seat of Willoughby – held by Ms Berejiklian for almost two decades, most recently on a margin of 21 per cent – with former Liberal political staffer and think tank director Tim James the favourite to keep the blue-ribbon seat.

However, if contests in the seats are close, the state could be waiting weeks for the results, with postal voting available to all constituents as a precaution amid the Omicron wave.

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