The New Zealand Labour party won by a landslide in the recent election, receiving 49% of the vote, which enables Jacinda Ardern, who came to power in 2017, to lead the country for a second term. Not only is this the best result for the Labour party in the last five decades, but could mean that it is the first government since 1996 to be able to rule without a coalition, which could promote an even more progressive stance than previously held when in agreement with NZ First, a small conservative party.
The success of the party is due in large part to Ardern’s significant popularity, combined with her highly effective handling of the Coronavirus pandemic. The fast and restrictive response to the virus resulted in fewer than 2,000 cases and 25 deaths in a population of 5 million, which has been recognised globally as one of the most successful examples of preventing the spread. With only 58 active cases, of which all but 3 are in government quarantine facilities, the lives of people in New Zealand have largely been able to reassume normality. This has also meant that the economic stability of the country has been maintained, being named the country that gives business leaders most confidence for future investment in a Bloomberg’s Media survey.
In terms of solidarity during the crisis, she chose to take a 20% pay cut to bridge the gap between her wage and those impacted by the virus. This successful approach of Ardern echoes that of other female leaders. The Centre for Economic Policy Research and the World Economic Forum published a piece of research suggesting that in countries led by women, due to more risk averse policies such as locking down earlier, the numbers of deaths are lower by approximately 50%.
However, it is Ardern’s message of kindness that has appeared to win the hearts of New Zealanders, guiding the country compassionately through its worst mass killing in the Christchurch Mosque shootings, navigating a volcanic eruption and now a global pandemic, in addition to giving birth in office. This last fact has not only made her a feminist icon, but has redefined views on what is possible for a women in high office. Ardern herself refused the position of prime minister seven times as she prioritised having a family and did not believe this would be possible in that position. Empathy and competence have defined her leadership, with her victory speech highlighting the importance of cooperation and unity in stark comparison to the current US election, while the first brief part was in Māori as a sign of inclusion to New Zealand’s indigenous people.
Ardern’s rhetoric is supported by a range of progressive policies, such as increasing the minimum wage and benefits and preventing further oil and gas exploration. While less headway was made in areas such as child poverty, which is a significant issue for New Zealand. Ardern addressed the fact that long standing change takes more than 3 years (the length of a term in office, in New Zealand) to achieve, promising to tackle this and other key issues of state housing and climate change in her next term. Furthermore, she promises to focus on jobs creation and training, in order to mitigate the consequences of Covid-19.
By: Theodora Hall
Image by: Nevada Halbert Via Flickr