New Zealand’s Ardern wins big victory in pandemic-focused elections

2020-10-16T062748Z_861335857_RC2IJJ91PUYC_RTRMADP_3_NEWZEALAND-ELECTION

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern won a landslide victory in New Zealand’s parliamentary elections on Saturday and took advantage of the success of fighting Covid-19 to gain an unprecedented majority and the chance to implement her reform agenda.

With two-thirds of the vote count, Arden’s center-left Labor Party was at 49.2 percent, expecting to take about 64 seats in New Zealand’s 120 parliament.

“Thank you to the many people who gave us their vote, who trusted that we continued to lead New Zealand’s recovery,” she told jubilant supporters, adding that her center-left Labor Party had seen its highest level of support in at least 50 years. Arden’s performance beat polls before the election.

No leader has achieved an absolute majority since New Zealand adopted a proportional voting system in 1996, leading to a series of multi-party governments.

‘Jacinda-mania’

While the count is not complete, the numbers were enough for opposition leader Judith Collins to admit after calling Ardern.

“Congratulations on your result, because I think it’s an excellent result for the Labor Party. It’s been a tough campaign,” Collins told cheering supporters in Auckland.

Her Conservative National Party was expected to occupy about 35 seats in what appears to be its worst result in nearly 20 years.

Labor Party President Claire Szabó praised the charismatic leader’s campaign, which unleashed a wave of support called “Jacinda-mania” as she took over the party in 2017 as it weakened votes.

“There is no doubt that the strong, great leadership we have had from Jacinda Ardern has been a massive factor in all of this,” she said.

Ardern had called the vote “the Covid election” and fought for her government’s success in eliminating the transmission of the virus in society, which has caused only 25 deaths in a population of five million.

The pandemic is just one of a series of crises that showed Arden’s leadership qualities in a violent first period.

She showed both empathy and decisive action on gun control after a white supremacist shooter killed 51 Muslim worshipers in the attack on Christchurch mosques last year.

The Ardern found itself once again comforting a shocked nation when a volcanic eruption on White Island, also known as Whakaari, killed 21 people and left dozens more with horrific burns.

“No matter what crisis is thrown at me, you will always be sure that I will give everything for this job, even if it means a huge sacrifice,” she said this week.

‘Extraordinary gain’

Ardern faced criticism in its first term for not fulfilling some important promises such as improving housing affordability and tackling child poverty.

Green co-leader Marama Davidson, whose party ruled in coalition with Labor during the first term, said the prime minister now had a mandate to implement changes. “I would like to congratulate Jacinda Ardern and her team on an extraordinary victory,” she said. “The results show how much New Zealanders want a strong, truly progressive government.”

Collins focused on the ghost of the Greens, which forced Ardern to pass a wealth tax aimed at the ambitious middle class. But her attack could not find traction, and the party appears to be falling well below the vote it took at the last election in 2017.

The Conservative leader, known as the “Crusher” for his tough policies when police minister in a previous government, has promised to remain as leader regardless of the outcome.

About 3.5 million people are registered to vote, with 1.9 million or well over half voting early – a much higher number than previous elections.

The vote was originally set for September 19, but was delayed by a new Covid-19 outbreak in Auckland that is now contained.

Collins, who took over the National Party in July after a period of unrest when the party had three leaders in three months, said the false start had cost her campaign momentum.

Referendums on legal euthanasia and recreational marijuana

New Zealanders also voted on referendums to legalize euthanasia and recreational marijuana. The latter vote could make New Zealand the only third country in the world to allow adult use and sale of cannabis nationwide after Uruguay and Canada.

The results of the referendums will be announced on October 30.

New Zealand switched to a mixed-member proportional system in 1996, where a party or coalition needs 61 of the 120 seats in parliament – usually around 48 percent of the vote – to form a government. A threshold that Arderns Labor has reached according to partial results.

( Jowharwith AFP & REUTERS)

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