Bul­letin from Abroad

Ardern fans hop­ing rock-star hype will pro­pel her to power may find a pointer in Ger­many.

New Zealand Listener - - CONTENTS - Cathrin Schaer is editor-in-chief of Iraqi news web­site Niqash.org, based in Berlin. CATHRIN SCHAER

Cathrin Schaer in Berlin

When the Ger­man main­stream media write about New Zealand, it’s usu­ally some­thing quirky. For ex­am­ple, re­cent head­lines fo­cused on three dar­ing wild rab­bits that rode to safety on the backs of sheep dur­ing an Otago flood (yes, there are pic­tures).

More re­cently, it was some­thing of a sur­prise to read in Ger­man about the new leader of the New Zealand Labour Party and whether she was go­ing to have chil­dren. “It only took a few hours be­fore it was all about her uterus,” one Berlin daily re­ported de­ri­sively. Yes, in­deed, Jacin­da­ma­nia had reached cen­tral Europe.

Maybe that’s not sur­pris­ing.

Af­ter all, Jacinda Ardern, leader of New Zealand’s ver­sion of the So­cial Democrats, one of Ger­many’s two main par­ties, is the lat­est in a grow­ing line of “rock-star politi­cians”. That is, par­lia­men­tar­i­ans blessed with wit, good looks, charm and charisma, tout­ing mes­sages of pos­i­tiv­ity and so­cial jus­tice, sanc­tioned with just a light sprin­kling of the right kind of pop­ulism.

It is why the likes of French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron, Cana­dian Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau,

Ital­ian Alessan­dro Di Bat­tista of the Five Star Move­ment and Bri­tish Labour’s Jeremy Cor­byn are of­ten greeted by the kind of adu­la­tion nor­mally re­served for boy bands and Hol­ly­wood star­lets.

Could New Zealand learn any­thing about Ardern’s chances in Septem­ber based on the road Europe’s rock-star politi­cians have trav­elled be­fore her?

Maybe – al­though, ad­mit­tedly, Macron and Di Bat­tista are not good com­par­isons, their elec­toral sit­u­a­tions be­ing very dif­fer­ent. Cor­byn might be a bit closer. De­spite the age dif­fer­ence, both he and Ardern ap­peal to younger vot­ers and the po­lit­i­cally ap­a­thetic.

There’s been a lot of talk about Labour in New Zealand har­ness­ing the same kind of “youthquake” that Cor­byn sup­pos­edly has. But the truth is that Labour gained a lot of sup­port in the UK’s snap elec­tion thanks to vot­ers’ an­tipa­thy to Brexit, so that doesn’t help Ardern much.

Cu­ri­ously, the clear­est po­lit­i­cal par­al­lel might be in Berlin. More than five months ago, Ger­many’s So­cial Democrats chose an un­ex­pected new leader, Martin Schulz, a for­mer Euro­pean Par­lia­ment Pres­i­dent, to go up against Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel in Septem­ber 24 elec­tions.

The choice was greeted with very un-Ger­man en­thu­si­asm. It would re­sult, news mag­a­zine Der Spiegel gushed, in the “re­vi­tal­i­sa­tion of democ­racy in Ger­many”. As lo­cal media vied to ex­plain the “Schulz ef­fect”, “Schul­zo­ma­nia” and “Saint Martin”, a bor­ing elec­tion started to look ex­cit­ing.

The So­cial Democrats polled 10% higher and gained more mem­bers than they had in two decades. One week into Schulz’s can­di­dacy, Ger­mans were pick­ing a 61-year-old with no lo­cal po­lit­i­cal ex­pe­ri­ence over Merkel as leader.

Un­for­tu­nately for Ardern-is­tas, this tale has an un­happy end­ing. The Schulz ef­fect has failed to de­liver: poll num­bers keep fall­ing and Schulz’s “fresh face” has not been able to com­pete with Merkel’s peren­nial prom­ise of se­cu­rity and sta­bil­ity.

No­body seems to know ex­actly why, al­though it could be that or­di­nary folk re­alised a fresh face does not nec­es­sar­ily fresh poli­cies make. Lurk­ing be­hind Schulz are the same old So­cial Democrats, un­able to es­cape a cen­trist trap they built as coali­tion part­ners years ago.

The clever­est rock-star politi­cians can all credit at least part of their suc­cess to one thing: the vot­ers’ de­sire for change, any change.

Part of Schulz’s im­me­di­ate ap­peal was that he was an al­ter­na­tive to Merkel, when there hadn’t been any other re­al­is­tic choice for years.

So, yes, Jacin­da­ma­nia, meet ­Schul­zo­ma­nia – you guys have a lot to talk about.

As lo­cal media vied to ex­plain “Schul­zo­ma­nia”, a bor­ing elec­tion started to look ex­cit­ing.

“LOL! I can’t wait to see how he tweets his way out of this one!”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from New Zealand

© PressReader. All rights reserved.