Ardern vic­tory in sight

Mercury (Hobart) - - WORLD - Welling­ton

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.

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