New Zealand PM Ardern wins his­toric re-elec­tion

Labour party set to win 64 of 120 seats

The Hindu - - FRONT PAGE - Reuters

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

The man­date means Ms. Ardern, 40, could form the first sin­gle-party govern­ment in decades. 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. Ms. Ardern 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.”

In a vic­tory speech in front of hundreds of cheer­ing sup­port­ers in Auck­land, New Zealand Prime Min­is­ter Jacinda Ardern said her Labour Party had got­ten more sup­port from New Zealan­ders than at any time in at least 50 years.

“This has not been an or­di­nary elec­tion, and it’s not an or­di­nary time,” she said. “It’s been full of un­cer­tainty and anx­i­ety, and we set out to be an an­ti­dote to that.”

Ms. Ardern promised not to take her new sup­port­ers for granted and to gov­ern for all New Zealan­ders.

A record num­ber of vot­ers cast early bal­lots in the two weeks lead­ing up to the elec­tion.

On the cam­paign trail, Ms. Ardern was greeted like a rock star by peo­ple who crammed into malls and spilled onto streets to cheer her on and get self­ies with her.

Ms. Ardern, 40, won the top job af­ter the 2017 elec­tion when Labour formed an al­liance with two other par­ties. The fol­low­ing year, she be­came only the sec­ond world leader to give birth while in of­fice.

Role model

She be­came a role model for work­ing moth­ers around the world, many of whom saw her as a coun­ter­point to Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump. And she was praised for her han­dling of last year’s at­tack on two Christchur­ch mosques, when a white su­prem­a­cist gunned down 51 Mus­lim wor­ship­pers.

She moved quickly to pass new laws ban­ning the dead­li­est types of semi-au­to­matic weapons. In late March this year, when only about 100 peo­ple had tested pos­i­tive for COVID-19, Ms. Ardern and her health of­fi­cials put New Zealand into a strict lock­down with a motto of “Go hard and go early”. She shut the bor­ders and out­lined an am­bi­tious goal of elim­i­nat­ing the virus en­tirely rather than just try­ing to con­trol its spread.

Bat­tle against COVID-19

With New Zealand hav­ing the ad­van­tage of be­ing an iso­lated is­land na­tion, the strat­egy worked. The coun­try elim­i­nated com­mu­nity trans­mis­sion for 102 days be­fore a new clus­ter was dis­cov­ered in Au­gust in Auck­land. Ms. Ardern swiftly im­posed a sec­ond lock­down in Auck­land and the new out­break faded away. The only new cases found re­cently have been among re­turn­ing trav­el­ers, who are in quar­an­tine.

The Auck­land out­break also prompted Ms. Ardern to post­pone the elec­tion by a month and helped in­crease the early voter turnout.

The Na­tional Party’s leader, Ju­dith Collins, is a former lawyer. She served as a Min­is­ter when Na­tional was in power and prides her­self on a blunt, no-non­sense ap­proach, a con­trast to Ms. Ardern’s em­pa­thetic style. Ms. Collins, 61, was promis­ing sweep­ing tax cuts in re­sponse to the eco­nomic down­turn caused by the virus. In a speech to her sup­port­ers in Auck­land, Ms. Collins said she’d called Ms. Ardern to con­grat­u­late her.

The elec­tion also saw Deputy Prime Min­is­ter Win­ston Peters and his small New Zealand First party voted out. The lib­er­tar­ian ACT Party in­creased its sup­port to 8% and the Green Party won 7.5% of the votes.

Labour Min­is­ter David Parker said it was a land­slide win for his party. “It’s a tremen­dous ac­co­lade first and fore­most to the prime min­is­ter, but also to the wider Labour team and the Labour move­ment,” he said.

In the elec­tion, vot­ers also had a say on two con­tentious so­cial is­sues — whether to le­gal­ize mar­i­juana and eu­thana­sia.

Polls taken be­fore the elec­tion in­di­cated the eu­thana­sia ref­er­en­dum was likely to pass while the out­come of the mar­i­juana vote re­mained un­cer­tain. The re­sults of both ref­er­en­dums will be an­nounced Oc­to­ber 30.

REUTERS ■

Cheer­ing on: Jacinda Ardern had won praises for her re­sponse to COVID-19 and last year’s at­tack on two mosques.

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