It has been called the Covid election, with stability on the agenda.
But it turned into the strangest general election campaign New Zealanders have ever seen, with most countries desperate for it to be over and a semblance of normalcy to resume in a deeply anomalous year.
After a month of delay caused by the coronavirus epidemic in Auckland, the country’s largest city, New Zealanders will finally go to the voting booths on Saturday.
But with a record one million people having already voted in advance, even voting day will be moderate.
The lack of excitement and the muted atmosphere has everything to do with the overwhelming success of Covid and the current Jacinda Ardern in dealing with the pandemic. For many people struggling with job losses and uncertainties, the election is an unwanted downturn that prevents a quick return to their old lives.
For months, opinion polls have shown Labor to lead the national opposition party, and it currently leads 15 points out of 46%, with Ardern also leading the polls as preferred prime minister.
National, who has had three leaders in six months, struggles, with even the indomitable Judith Collins – nicknamed Crusher Collins – failing to ignite, making repeated bizarre missteps – including criticizing obese people for their lack of accountability personal and planting campaign supporters on his walks. .
“I’m very aware that I’m not going to be able to get out, and Jacinda Ardern ‘off-Jacinda,’ Collins said. “I can be someone [with] a very mean and mean sense of humor and that gets me in trouble sometimes. In fact, it often gets me in trouble.
Ardern, meanwhile, remained optimistic everywhere. Political analysts criticized his party for its woolly language, its inability to issue a clear mandate and its vague Covid stimulus package.
But Ardern’s personal popularity has kept her party at record highs in the polls, and after ruling through a series of major disasters, she has nothing more convincing to do.
Dr Jennifer Lees-Marshment, University of Auckland Elections and Political Communication Specialist, said: “This is a really, really strange, very strange election. When you have an election in the midst of a global crisis, it is very difficult for the public and politicians to worry about anything else.
The Politics of Kindness
When New Zealand closed its borders in mid-March and went into lockdown soon after, Ardern urged New Zealanders to “be nice” to each other. “Check your neighbors,” she said. “Call your grandmother.”
There have been less than 2,000 Covid infections in New Zealand and only 25 deaths. The country’s success in dealing with the virus has been celebrated by the World Health Organization, among others, and Ardern’s steadfast leadership has endeared him even to those who would usually vote nationally.
Political analysts say that in times of uncertainty voters are clinging to the status quo – and right now Ardern’s policy of kindness and compassion is the cocoon-like support New Zealanders are looking for.
“I think the elections will come down to a question of confidence, and that of course favors the outgoing Prime Minister,” said Carl Ebbers, a small businessman from Auckland. “She’s done so well with… all these emergencies we’ve had.”
Commentators say it appears the last two years of New Zealand politics have been forgotten and the only thing that matters to voters are the last nine months.
Collins said she “doesn’t believe polls” and accused Ardern of breaking promises and “blundering”. She said the prime minister would only offer voters “love and a hug” in the wake of the global pandemic, while she would offer them “hope and jobs”, promising an economic response more solid.
Some political analysts agree that the Labor Party is entering a second term on the back of Ardern’s worldwide fame.
But with Collins repeatedly making public blunders, the chances of National Party government are dwindling day by day.
Major Labor mistakes such as the KiwiBuild fiasco (an abandoned goal of building 100,000 homes in 10 years), the failure to implement a capital gains tax and rising levels of social deprivation seem to have escaped public awareness. When raised by the National Party, the criticisms seem to have had little effect.
For many political observers, the question is no longer whether Labor and Ardern will win on October 17, but whether they manage to win an outright majority, allowing them to rule on their own, which the electoral system design of the country was supposed to prevent.
“It’s a really unusual election; the context is just weird, ”says political commentator Morgan Godfery. “I can’t wait for this to be over. I’m not necessarily a pro-Labor person per se, but I just want them to come back for the simple reason that they’re in the best position to lead the country during a global pandemic. “
While the Labor Party can be accused of cabotage and national disunity, the 2020 election is far less a matter of politics than at any other time in history.
More than new hospitals, a wealth tax, or cleaner rivers, New Zealanders want to feel safe in a time of global uncertainty. And a leader who has been nominated twice for the Nobel Peace Prize is certainly reassuring.
Ben Thomas, public relations consultant and former member of the national government, said: ‘I don’t think your average voter who went from national to Labor is thinking about science. [of Covid-19]. They think Jacinda makes good decisions and takes care of us.