Political scientist and gardening enthusiast Georgina Murray voted one of her two votes against the Green Party in an attempt to “keep the Labor Party honest”. In New Zealand, people can express their preference for both – a candidate and a party. This year, the country registered a record number of advance votes.
“I normally vote for the Labor Party but I am voting tactically this year,” she said. “I think Jacinda Ardern is fabulous because she has stood up for women’s rights, she has publicly condemned racism, she is warm and she has rethought what leadership can look like.”
“Jacindamania” has not always had a hold on voters. Despite leading the country through a ‘terrorist attack’ in March 2019, a volcanic eruption in December, and on the cover of Vogue and TIME magazine, Ardern’s Labor Party was actually behind schedule. on the national opposition party in February.
Political commentator Ben Thomas said the drop was due to Ardern being applauded for her kindness and empathy, with many New Zealanders feeling she was not keeping her promises of transformational change.
“She made utopian promises to ‘lift countless children out of poverty’ and build 100,000 houses in 10 years. By this calculation, 10,000 should have been built by now and we have seen less than a few hundred. There have been many promises to invest in transport and infrastructure, but despite the many press releases, I did not see a shovel touch the ground, ”he said.
But the coronavirus pandemic has changed the equation.
“The coronavirus has given Ardern a clean slate,” Thomas said. “She could reset the agenda. It can be seen that either the Prime Minister has benefited from crises or New Zealand has benefited from the Prime Minister. ”
Under Ardern’s government, New Zealand has reported fewer than 2,000 cases and 25 deaths, and although the country has suffered a difficult lockdown, it appears to have avoided the catastrophic economic impact suffered by countries such as the United Kingdom. United.
Treasury figures suggest the economy is expected to contract just over 3% in the June 2020 quarter, which is slightly better than economists predicted. Unemployment is expected to peak at 7.8% in the March 2022 quarter.
“We are bombarded with images of Trump’s America and Boris’s UK, so there’s a sense of relief that we dodged a bullet thanks to Jacinda.
Ardern is widely seen as the antithesis of Donald Trump and has even become a source of pride for the Kiwis, Thomas says.
The handling of the coronavirus by workers has not been without missteps: the health ministry failed to properly test those at the border, which likely led to the second wave of community cases in August.
The government has also been criticized for lacking personal protective equipment for frontline staff; not responding to flu shot requests; and the legitimacy of the first lockout was called into question in the High Court. The court ruled that while the first nine days of the lockdown were justified, they were also illegal.
The National Party has also had its troubles. Despite leading the polls in February, the party has undergone leadership changes and dozens of resignations. Some 19 of its original 56 MPs have decided not to run for the 2020 election. Thomas says leadership was almost ‘pushed’ onto Judith Collins, whose hero is former UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, last recourse.
Business owner Ajay Agrawal generally voted for the National Party, but he was touched by the way Ardern handled the coronavirus and the Christchurch terror attacks.
“The worries I had before don’t matter anymore,” Agrawal said. “I am very proud to have Jacinda as Prime Minister. Many people from my country [India] talk about her, that’s a big deal. I don’t even know who the Prime Minister of Australia is, that says a lot.
Yet other voters are reluctant to get caught up in the hype. There are 15 parties vying for the election and even if Labor wins, they will likely have to rule in a coalition.
Phillip Craig says he will vote based on politics.
“It is a dangerous game to vote according to your personality,” he said. “She still has my vote, but I was not influenced by ‘Jacindamania’. I am skeptical of all the international media coverage. Where’s the meat of Jacinda’s hype?
John Hughes has also been shown to be immune, but says he remains a staunch national voter.
“I think the country needs a strong, firm hand,” said Hughes. “I voted for Labor once and it almost destroyed the country in the ’70s and’ 80s. I swore I would never vote for Labor again. I see Judith Collins as a strong person. She’s a better speaker than Jacinda, and she has that charisma that Ardern doesn’t.
Political analyst Geoffrey Miller says that if the National Party wants to point out the differences in policy, its efforts may be in vain. Voters are not interested in anything other than “here and now,” he says.
“When you see the country having a rugby match where 30,000 people gather in a stadium, that is seen as proof of the government’s success,” he said. “People are looking around for freedoms like meeting friends for coffee and not having to wear a mask. People feel grateful that they are cut off from the rest of the world. ”
While there has always been an element of uncertainty in any election, “you can clearly see that the Labor Party is in control of the speed”.
Whatever the outcome of the election, however, New Zealand faces serious challenges.
Senior economist Brad Olsen said questions about measures to open up the border and rising unemployment as the pandemic continued elsewhere in the world would likely become more urgent.
And the need for social housing, which Ardern has pledged to address since taking office in 2017, still needs to be addressed.
There are now nearly 20,000 people on the waiting list, up from an average of around 4,000 for each of the three years through 2016, according to Olsen, and with Maori, young people and women traditionally the most affected by recessions, the situation will get worse, he said.
At the same time, house prices rose as those who could afford a 20% down payment and low-rate mortgage entered the market, further widening the gap between the haves and have-nots.
Ardern has mounted a wave of popular support for the pandemic, but if she is fired for a second term, it will be time to achieve the transformational change she has long promised.
As Miller puts it, while most voters gave the government a “jail release card” for this election, “I don’t think voters will do it again.