‘Jacindamania’ set to return Jacinda Ardern as New Zealand PM | New Zealand
Auckland, New Zealand – Jacinda Ardern is on track for a second term as New Zealand Prime Minister in the elections that will be held on Saturday, largely thanks to her handling of the coronavirus pandemic which has helped improve her image as an effective leader.
While the government has lost support since the coronavirus resurfaced in Auckland in August, recent opinion polls show the poll is now only 46 days, compared with 31 percent of the National Party’s just two days before the election.
Political scientist and gardening enthusiast Georgina Murray gave one of her two votes to the Greens 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 had a record number of pre-votes.
“I usually vote for Labor, but I vote tactically this year,” she said. “I think Jacinda Ardern is fabulous because she campaigned for women’s rights, publicly condemned racism, is warm-hearted and has thought about what leadership could look like.”
“Jacindamania” does not always have the voters under control. Although Ardern’s Labor Party led the country through a “terrorist attack”, a volcanic eruption in December, in March 2019 and covered the magazine Vogue and TIME, in February it actually fell behind the opposition National Party.
Jacinda Ardern receives a bouquet of flowers as she visits a construction site in Auckland during the campaign [Ben McKay/AAP Image via Reuters]Political commentator Ben Thomas said the decline was due to the fact that while Ardern received praise for her kindness and empathy, many New Zealanders felt that she was failing to deliver on her promises of transformational change.
“She made utopian promises to lift countless children out of poverty and to build 100,000 houses in 10 years. According to this calculation, 10,000 should have been built by now, and we’ve seen fewer than a few hundred. There have been numerous pledges to invest in transport and infrastructure, but despite the many press releases, I haven’t seen a shovel on the ground, ”he said.
But the coronavirus pandemic changed the equation.
“Coronavirus gave Ardern a clean slate,” said Thomas. “She could reset the agenda. You could see that either the Prime Minister benefited from crises or New Zealand benefited from the PM. “
Under Ardern’s administration, New Zealand has reported fewer than 2,000 cases and 25 deaths, and while the country has gone through a tough lockdown, it appears to have avoided the disastrous economic effects of countries like the UK.
The opposite of Trump
Treasury Department figures suggest that the economy is expected to shrink by just over 3 percent in June 2020, which is slightly better than economists predicted. Unemployment is likely to have peaked at 7.8 percent in March 2022.
Georgina Murray says Jacinda Ardern is “fabulous” but she shares her vote to “keep the Labor Party” honest. [Sasha Borissenko/Al Jazeera]”We’re being bombarded with images of Trump’s America and Boris’ Britain, so it’s a sense of relief that we dodged a bullet thanks to Jacinda.”
Ardern is widely viewed as the antithesis of Donald Trump and has even become a source of pride for Kiwis, says Thomas.
Labor’s handling of coronavirus has not been without its missteps: the Ministry of Health has not adequately tested the cross-border commuters, likely leading to the second wave of community cases in August.
The government has also been criticized for the lack of personal protective equipment for frontline personnel. failing to keep up with the demand for flu shots; and the legitimacy of the initial lockdown has been challenged in the High Court. The court found that the first nine days of lockdown, while justified, were also illegal.
The National Party also had its problems. Despite the leadership in the polls in February, the party endured a change in leadership and numerous resignations. About 19 of the original 56 MPs voted against the 2020 election. Thomas says the leadership almost “came across” Judith Collins, whose heroine is former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, as a last resort.
The national party leader Judith Collins not only struggles with ‘Jacindamania’, but also with problems within her own party [Marty Melville/AFP]Business owner Ajay Agrawal usually voted for the National Party but was touched by how Ardern dealt with the coronavirus and the Christchurch terrorist attacks.
“The worries I had before don’t matter now,” said Agrawal. “I am very proud to have Jacinda as my Prime Minister. Lots of people from my country [India] talk about her, that’s a pretty big deal. I don’t even know who the Australian Prime Minister is, that says a lot. “
Still, other voters are concerned about getting caught up in the hype. There are 15 parties voting in the elections, and even if Labor wins, they will likely have to rule in a coalition.
Phillip Craig says he will vote on a policy basis.
“It is a dangerous game to choose by personality,” he said. “She still has my voice, but I haven’t been influenced by Jacindamania. I am skeptical of all international reporting. Where’s the meat to 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 and firm hand,” said Hughes. “I voted for Labor once and it nearly destroyed the country in the 70s and 80s. I vowed never to vote for Labor again. I see Judith Collins as a strong person. She is a better speaker than Jacinda and she has the charisma that Ardern does not have. “
Ajay Agrawal would normally vote National but was impressed with Ardern’s handling of the pandemic [Sasha Borissenko/Al Jazeera]
Political scientist Geoffrey Miller says while the National Party seeks to highlight differences in politics, its efforts are likely to prove in vain. Voters are only interested in the “here and now,” he says.
“When you see that the country has a rugby game where 30,000 people gather in a stadium, it is seen as evidence of the government’s success,” he said. “People are looking for freedom, like meeting friends for coffee and not having to wear a mask. People are grateful to be 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 Labor is on the cruise control”.
Regardless of the election result, New Zealand faces major challenges.
John Hughes would like to see Judith Collins as Prime Minister. He believes Collins will give the “strong and firm hand” he deems necessary [Sasha Borissenko/Al Jazeera]Senior economist Brad Olsen says questions about measures to open the border and rising unemployment are likely to become more pressing as the pandemic drags elsewhere in the world.
And the need for social housing, which Ardern has promised to resolve since taking office in 2017, has yet to be addressed.
There are now almost 20,000 people on the waiting list, compared to an average of 4,000 in each of the three years up to 2016, according to Olsen. For Maori, young people and women, traditionally hardest hit by recessions, the situation continues to get worse, he said.
At the same time, property prices have risen as those who can afford a 20 percent deposit and a low interest mortgage have come into the market, widening the gap between owners and non-owners.
The Labor Party is expected to ride the wave of popularity of Jacinda Ardern to remain in government in New Zealand [Sasha Borissenko/Al Jazeera]Ardern has seen a surge of popular support thanks to the pandemic, but when she returns for a second term it will be time to implement the transformational change she has long promised.
As Miller says, most government voters gave the government a “free jail card” for this election. “I don’t think voters will do this again.”