AUCKLAND, New Zealand – New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern won a second term on Saturday in an electoral landslide of historic proportions.
With most votes counted, Ardern’s Liberal Labor Party won 49% of the vote against 27% for its main challenger, the National Conservative Party.
Labor was on course to win an absolute majority of seats in Parliament, which has not happened since New Zealand implemented a proportional voting system 24 years ago. Typically, parties must form alliances to govern, but this time Ardern and Labor can go it alone.
In a victory speech to hundreds of cheering supporters in Auckland, Ardern said his party had won more support from New Zealanders than at any time in at least 50 years.
“It was not an ordinary election and it is not an ordinary time,” she said. “It was full of uncertainty and anxiety, and we decided to be an antidote for it.
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Ardern has vowed not to take his new supporters for granted and to rule for all New Zealanders.
“We live in an increasingly polarized world, a place where more and more people have lost the ability to see the point of view of others,” she said. “I think in this election New Zealanders have shown that this is not who we are.”
A record number of voters voted early in the two weeks leading up to the election.
On the campaign trail, Ardern was greeted like a rock star by people crowding malls and spilling into the streets cheering her on and getting selfies with her.
Its popularity skyrocketed earlier this year after leading a successful effort to eradicate the coronavirus. There is currently no community spread of the virus in the country of 5 million people and people are no longer required to wear masks or to distance themselves socially.
Ardern, 40, won the top post after the 2017 election when Labor formed an alliance with two other parties. The following year, she became only the second world leader to give birth during her tenure.
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 mosques in Christchurch, when a white supremacist shot dead 51 Muslim worshipers.
She moved quickly to pass new laws banning the deadliest types of semi-automatic weapons.
At the end of March of this year, when only around 100 people had tested positive for COVID-19, Ardern and his health officials put New Zealand on strict lockdown with the motto ” Go ahead and get there early ”. She closed the borders and set an ambitious goal of eliminating the virus completely rather than simply trying to control its spread.
With New Zealand having the advantage of being an isolated island nation, the strategy worked. The country ruled out community transmission for 102 days before a new cluster was discovered in Auckland in August. Ardern quickly imposed a second lockdown on Auckland and the new outbreak subsided. The only new cases discovered recently involve returning travelers, who are in quarantine.
The Auckland outbreak also prompted Ardern to postpone the election for a month and helped boost early voter turnout.
National Party leader Judith Collins is a former lawyer. She served as a minister when National was in power and prides herself on a straightforward, no-frills approach, which contrasts with Ardern’s empathetic style. Collins, 61, pledged sweeping tax cuts in response to the economic downturn caused by the virus.
In a speech to her supporters in Auckland, Collins said she called Ardern to congratulate her.
“This is an exceptional result for the Labor Party,” Collins said. “It was a tough campaign.”
Collins promised the party would come back to fight another day.
The election also saw Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters and his small New Zealand party voted. The libertarian ACT party increased its support to 8% and the Green Party won 7.5% of the vote.
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Labor Minister David Parker said it was a landslide victory for his party. “It is a tremendous reward first and foremost for the Prime Minister, but also for the Labor team at large and the Labor movement,” he said.
In the election, voters also had their say on two contentious social issues: legalizing marijuana and euthanasia. Polls carried out before the election indicated that the referendum on euthanasia was likely to pass as the outcome of the marijuana vote remained uncertain. The results of the two referendums will be announced on October 30.