Ardern sweeps New Zealand polls, re­warded for tack­ling COVID-19

‘It was way over the line. We want to show them our power and that we can’t ac­cept this,’ said Tang, a 27-year-old of­fice worker among thousands gath­ered at the Lat Phrao sta­tion

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WELLING­TON: Prime Min­is­ter Jacinda Ardern de­liv­ered the big­gest elec­tion vic­tory for her cen­tre-let Labour Party in half a cen­tury on Satur­day as vot­ers re­warded her for a de­ci­sive re­sponse to COVID-19.

The man­date means Ardern, 40, could form the first sin­gle-party govern­ment in decades and will face the chal­lenge of de­liv­er­ing on the pro­gres­sive trans­for­ma­tion she promised but failed to de­liver in her first term, where Labour shared power with a na­tion­al­ist party.

“Thank you to the many peo­ple who gave us their vote, who trusted us to con­tinue lead­ing New Zealand’s re­cov­ery,” the 40-year-old told cheer­ing sup­port­ers.

Ardern had dubbed the vote “the Covid elec­tion” and cam­paigned on her govern­ment’s suc­cess in elim­i­nat­ing com­mu­nity trans­mis­sion of the virus, which has caused just 25 deaths in a pop­u­la­tion of five mil­lion. Op­po­si­tion leader Ju­dith Collins con­ceded an “out­stand­ing re­sult” for Labour and con­grat­u­lated Ardern on her win.

“Boy, we knew it was go­ing to be a tough cam­paign,” said Collins, whose con­ser­va­tive Na­tional Party is ex­pected to take around 35 seats ater its worst re­sult in nearly 20 years.

Collins, who took over the Na­tional Party in July ater a pe­riod of tur­moil when the party had three lead­ers in three months, said the false start had cost her cam­paign mo­men­tum.

Her pitch for the top job had fo­cused on the spec­tre of the Greens forc­ing Ardern to adopt a wealth tax aimed at the na­tion’s as­pi­ra­tional mid­dle class.

The con­ser­va­tive leader, known as “Crusher” for her hard­line poli­cies when po­lice min­is­ter in a pre­vi­ous govern­ment, has vowed to stay on as leader re­gard­less of the re­sult.

“This is a his­toric shit,” said po­lit­i­cal com­men­ta­tor Bryce Ed­wards of Vic­to­ria Univer­sity in Welling­ton, de­scrib­ing the vote as one of the big­gest swings in New Zealand’s elec­toral his­tory in 80 years.

Labour was on track to win 64 of the 120 seats in the coun­try’s uni­cam­eral par­lia­ment, the high­est by any party since New Zealand adopted a pro­por­tional vot­ing sys­tem in 1996.

Ardern, 40, promised sup­port­ers she would build an econ­omy that works for ev­ery­one, cre­ate jobs, train peo­ple, pro­tect the en­vi­ron­ment and ad­dress cli­mate chal­lenges and so­cial in­equal­i­ties.

“We are liv­ing in an in­creas­ingly po­larised world,” she said.

“A place where more and more have lost the abil­ity to see one an­other’s point of view. I hope that with this elec­tion, New Zealand has shown that this is not who we are.”

Labour had 49.0% of the votes, far ahead of

Na­tional at 27%, the Elec­toral Com­mis­sion said, with 95% of bal­lots counted.

Ardern said she would wait un­til the final re­sult to say if her govern­ment would in­clude smaller groups like the Green Party, a former coali­tion part­ner that se­cured a big­ger 8% man­date.

Na­tional lead­ers were decimated in their stronghold­s by young Labour can­di­dates who ap­pealed to vot­ers with pro­gres­sive, demo­cratic mes­sages, and high­lighted the party’s suc­cess in beat­ing coro­n­avirus.

“The last seven months of this govern­ment, all of the is­sues around their past prom­ises have been put aside be­cause of COVID-19. It’s that sim­ple,” said Deputy Na­tional leader Gerry Brown­lee who lost his long-held seat.

De­spite the elec­tion’s tilt to the let, Ardern “is likely to con­tinue to chart a cen­trist course, largely aim­ing to im­ple­ment in­cre­men­tal change that she hopes will out­last a fu­ture change in govern­ment,” be­cause she owes her vic­tory to cen­tre-right vot­ers who pre­vi­ously sup­ported Na­tional, said Ge­of­frey Miller, an­a­lyst at po­lit­i­cal web­site Democ­racy Project.

The prime min­is­ter won global ac­claim for her han­dling of a mass shoot­ing last year by a white su­prem­a­cist in Christchur­ch, with her in­clu­sive “be strong, be kind” mantra and swit ac­tion to ban guns.

She bur­nished that rep­u­ta­tion this year with a “go hard, go early” ap­proach to the new coro­n­avirus, which has elim­i­nated lo­cally spread COVID-19 in the na­tion.

The elec­tion was de­layed by a month ater new COVID-19 in­fec­tions in Auck­land that led to a sec­ond lock­down in the coun­try’s largest city.

While known in­ter­na­tion­ally for pro­mot­ing pro­gres­sive causes such as woman’s rights and so­cial jus­tice, at home Ardern faced crit­i­cism that her govern­ment failed on a prom­ise to be trans­for­ma­tional. Life is back to nor­mal in New Zealand, but its bor­ders are still shut, its tourism sec­tor is bleed­ing and economists pre­dict a last­ing re­ces­sion ater the harsh lock­downs.

The econ­omy shrank at an 12.2% an­nual clip in the sec­ond quar­ter, its steep­est drop since the Great De­pres­sion.

Debt is fore­cast to rise to 56% of gross do­mes­tic prod­uct from less than 20% be­fore the pan­demic.

New Zealan­ders also voted on Satur­day in ref­er­en­dums to le­galise eu­thana­sia and re­cre­ational mar­i­juana, with re­sults to be an­nounced on Oct.30. The later vote could make New Zealand only the third coun­try in the world to al­low the adult use and sale of cannabis na­tion­wide, ater Uruguay and Canada.

Tens of thousands of peo­ple took to the streets in a wave of protests across Bangkok and other Thai cities on Satur­day in de­fi­ance of a govern­ment crack­down fol­low­ing three months of demon­stra­tions aimed at the prime min­is­ter and monar­chy.

Many pro­test­ers said they had been stirred into ac­tion by the po­lice’s use of wa­ter can­non on Fri­day to dis­perse thousands of youth-led pro­test­ers who in­cluded many chil­dren.

“It was way over the line. We want to show them our power and that we can’t ac­cept this,” said Tang, a 27-year-old of­fice worker among thousands of peo­ple who gath­ered at the Lat Phrao sta­tion in the cap­i­tal Bangkok.

Po­lice atempts to thwart pro­test­ers by shut­ing down Bangkok’s public trans­port net­work back­fired when it led to lo­calised protests across the city in­volv­ing three main cen­tres and sev­eral other smaller demon­stra­tions. There were demon­stra­tions in at least six cities out­side Bangkok too.

Po­lice did not in­ter­vene, and the protests dis­persed ater sev­eral hours.

“We will pri­mar­ily ne­go­ti­ate,” po­lice spokesman

Yingyos Thep­jam­nong told a news con­fer­ence. “En­forc­ing the law will be step by step, us­ing meth­ods that fol­low in­ter­na­tional stan­dards.”

Pro­test­ers de­mand the re­moval of Prime Min­is­ter Prayuth Chan-ocha, a former mil­i­tary ruler. They have also be­come openly crit­i­cal of King Maha Va­ji­ra­longkorn de­spite lese ma­jeste laws that can mean 15 years in jail for in­sult­ing the monar­chy.

On Thurs­day, the govern­ment banned all po­lit­i­cal gath­er­ings of five or more peo­ple. Po­lice have ar­rested more than 50 peo­ple - in­clud­ing sev­eral protest lead­ers - in the past week.

Govern­ment spokesman Anucha Bu­ra­pachaisri told Reuters: “There is no win or lose for any side. It’s all dam­age to the coun­try.”

The Royal Palace has made no com­ment on the protests but the king has said Thai­land needs peo­ple who love the coun­try and the monar­chy.

Pro­test­ers say Prayuth en­gi­neered last year’s elec­tion to keep the power he seized in a 2014 coup - an ac­cu­sa­tion he de­nies. They say the monar­chy has helped per­pet­u­ate years of po­lit­i­cal in­flu­ence by the army and seek to curb its pow­ers.

The pro­test­ers at Lat Phrao chanted “Prayuth get out” as well as coarser re­frains.

“I con­demn those who cracked down on the pro­test­ers and those who or­dered it. You all have blood on your hands,” protest leader Tatep Ru ang pr apaik it se rees ai date rbe­ingf reed on bail fol­low­ing his ar­rest on Fri­day.

Bail was also granted to one of two ac­tivists charged with try­ing to harm the queen - rarely used charges that carry a po­ten­tial life sen­tence - ater pro­test­ers shouted at her mo­tor­cade on Wed­nes­day.

The king and queen spend most of their time in Europe and are on their long­est visit to Thai­land this year.

The king is mostly res­i­dent in Ger­many and a Ger­man diplo­mat said the govern­ment was closely mon­i­tor­ing po­lit­i­cal de­vel­op­ments in Thai­land.

“Fur­ther vi­o­lent clashes should be avoided. Peace­ful ex­pres­sion must be pos­si­ble,” the diplo­mat said.

Hu­man rights groups have con­demned the dozens of ar­rests and the use of force against peace­ful protests.

“Con­cerned gov­ern­ments and the United Na­tions should speak out pub­licly to de­mand an im­me­di­ate end to po­lit­i­cal re­pres­sion by the Prayuth ad­min­is­tra­tion,” said Brad Adams, Asia direc­tor at Hu­man Rights Watch.

The king has not com­mented pub­licly on the protests. Nightly TV news on the royal fam­ily showed him ad­dress­ing former mem­bers of the long-de­funct Com­mu­nist Party of Thai­land who had been given land as part of a rec­on­cil­i­a­tion pro­gram in the late 1970s un­der the pa­tron­age of Va­ji­ra­longkorn’s fa­ther, the late King Bhu­mi­bol Adulyadej.

“Cur­rently, one should un­der­stand that the coun­try needs peo­ple who love the na­tion and love the monar­chy,” the king said.

Prayuth’s dec­la­ra­tion of a state of emer­gency said the mea­sure was nec­es­sary be­cause “cer­tain groups of per­pe­tra­tors in­tended to in­sti­gate an un­to­ward in­ci­dent and move­ment in the Bangkok area by way of var­i­ous meth­ods and via dif­fer­ent chan­nels, in­clud­ing caus­ing ob­struc­tion to the royal mo­tor­cade.”

As­so­ci­ated Press

↑ New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern is con­grat­u­lated by her part­ner Clarke Gay­ford fol­low­ing her elec­tion vic­tory in Auck­land.

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