Ardern victory in sight
NEW Zealand’s charismatic Opposition Leader Jacinda Ardern rallied support yesterday for the final week of a rollercoaster election campaign that has her centre-left Labour Party within sight of an unlikely victory.
Labour had been heading for disaster at the September 23 polls until Ms Ardern took over last month and sparked a surge in support that local media dubbed “Jacinda-mania”.
The 37-year-old has been mobbed at shopping malls and earned comparisons to Canada’s Justin Trudeau and France’s Emmanuel Macron from pundits such as former prime minister Helen Clark.
Her rise has wrong-footed Prime Minister Bill English’s conservative National Party, which had been cruising to a record-equalling fourth term.
Mr English has dismissed Ms Ardern’s appeal as “stardust”, focusing instead on the National’s strong record guiding New Zealand through the global financial crisis and a deadly Christchurch earthquake in 2011.
Ms Ardern herself admits she is surprised at the public’s response to a self-described “policy nerd” who never envisioned herself running for prime minister.
“This will go down as the most extraordinary period of my life,” she said on the campaign trail last week.
Ms Ardern grew up in the North Island hinterland and credits the poverty she saw there with shaping her beliefs.
She served her political apprenticeship in Ms Clark’s office before heading to Britain to work as a policy adviser in Tony Blair’s government.
She was elected to parliament in 2008 and in March this year became Labour’s deputy leader, confirming her status as a rising star.
While acknowledging New Zealand has maintained a robust economy under the Nationals, Ms Ardern has argued for a more progressive agenda that addresses social inequality.
Housing affordability, free tertiary education, environmental action and improved healthcare have been constant themes at the hustings.
She has also vowed to slash immigration numbers and bar foreigners from buying houses in New Zealand, amid fears offshore money is fuelling the rise in property prices.