New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has been hailed around the world for her government’s swift action on Covid-19, which has helped New Zealand avoid the massive infections and deaths that have devastated the United States and Europe. Now voters across the country have responded to his leadership by giving Ardern and his Labor Party their biggest electoral victory in 50 years.
Ardern, 40, gained international attention when she became Prime Minister in 2017, then one of the youngest female leaders in the world. Earlier this year, his center-left party appeared poised for a close election due to lack of progress on issues it had promised to prioritize, such as housing and child poverty reduction, a reported CNN.
Then came Covid-19. Ardern responded quickly, with an early lockdown that essentially ruled out the spread of the virus. She also spoke directly to New Zealanders with a warmth and empathy that other world leaders lacked, helping allay New Zealanders’ anxieties and get them to adhere to the coronavirus restrictions. To date, New Zealand has reported fewer than 2,000 cases and 25 deaths from Covid-19.
In Saturday’s election, Ardern’s party is on track to win 64 of the country’s 120 seats in parliament, according to Reuters. This would give the Labor Party decisive control over government, allowing it to rule without having to form a coalition, and granting Ardern and his allies more power than ever to chart New Zealand’s path through the pandemic and beyond.
“We will rebuild better from the Covid crisis,” Ardern said in his acceptance speech on Saturday, referring to a slogan also used by the presidential campaign of former US Vice President Joe Biden. “This is our opportunity.”
Ardern has always been popular abroad. Now she has a warrant at home.
Ardern has maintained high visibility around the world since his election, as Damien Cave reports to the New York Times. It wasn’t just her youth that caught the eye – she also became the first world leader in nearly 30 years to give birth while in office in 2018. Her six-week parental leave has been hailed as revolutionary, showing the importance of paid leave for parents. at a time when many – especially in the United States – are struggling to access this benefit. (In New Zealand, new parents can access up to 26 weeks of paid government funded leave.)
But Ardern was not always as successful at home as it was popular abroad. Leading a coalition with the New Zealand Nationalist Party, she has struggled to deliver on progressive promises like making housing more affordable and tackling climate change, Cave reports.
Covid-19 then changed everything. Ardern has been praised not only around the world, but in New Zealand, where her swift action has seen many children return to school and adults to return to work, while countries like the United States have saw an increase in infections.
Meanwhile, his personal speeches amid the pandemic to New Zealanders have been praised for their frankness and warmth. In April, for example, she assured children across the country that both the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny were seen as essential workers.
Ardern’s response was in many ways the embodiment of one of his leadership mantras: “Be strong, be kind”. Ardern’s effectiveness, along with the vigorous responses of Angela Merkel of Germany, Tsai Ing-Wen of Taiwan, and others, has even led some to question whether female leaders are better suited to manage pandemic than men.
And now her constituents have voted to keep her at the helm as New Zealand continues to overcome Covid-19. With a majority in the country’s parliament, Labor will be able to form a one-party government that could give Ardern a greater ability to deliver on its priorities than it has in the past.
Despite this tenure, Ardern’s second term will bring new challenges, including repairing an economy weakened by successive lockdowns and ensuring that its majority is able to deliver on its electoral promises. “She has significant political capital,” Jennifer Curtin, director of the Public Policy Institute at the University of Auckland, told The Times. “She’s going to have to keep her promises with more substance.”
But Ardern says she’s ready to get down to business. The slogan of the campaign that led her to victory was simple: “Keep moving forward.
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