Ardern wins ‘Covid election’ by a landslide

18 Oct 2020

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New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is all smiles as she claims victory over challenger Judith Collins at her party’s election night event in Auckland on Saturday.—AFP
New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is all smiles as she claims victory over challenger Judith Collins at her party’s election night event in Auckland on Saturday.—AFP

WELLINGTON: Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern won a landslide victory in New Zealand’s general election on Saturday, leveraging success battling Covid-19 into an unprecedented majority she said gave her a mandate for progressive reform.

Ardern’s centre-left Labour Party took 64 seats in the 120-member parliament with 49 per cent of the vote, after the youthful and charismatic leader steered the nation through the upheaval wrought by the global pandemic.

“Thank you to the many people who gave us their vote, who trusted us to continue leading New Zealand’s recovery,” the 40-year-old told cheering supporters.

Ardern had dubbed the vote “the Covid election” and campaigned on her government’s success in eliminating community transmission of the virus, which has caused just 25 deaths in a population of five million.

The pandemic is one of a string of emergencies that tested Ardern’s leadership during a torrid first term, after she rode to an unexpected victory in 2017 polls on the back of a wave of support dubbed “Jacinda-mania”.

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

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

“There’s no doubt the strong, great leadership we’ve had from Jacinda Ardern has been a massive factor in all this,” Labour Party president Claire Szabo said of her party’s win on broadcaster TVNZ.

Saturday’s vote marked the first time any leader won an absolute majority since New Zealand adopted a proportional voting system in 1996 and was the party’s strongest showing since World War II.

Opposition leader Judith Collins conceded an “outstanding result” for Labour and congratulated Ardern on her win.

“Boy, we knew it was going to be a tough campaign,” said Collins, whose conservative National Party is expected to take around 35 seats after its worst result in nearly 20 years.

Ardern was criticised during her first term for failing to deliver on some key promises such as improving housing affordability, protecting the environment and reducing child poverty.

But she said the election had set her up for an active second term.

Imran’s message

Prime Minister Imran Khan congratulated Ardern on her comprehensive victory in the election.

In a tweet, he wrote: “Warmest congratulations to @jacindaardern on her impressive victory in #NZelections2020. Her compassionate style of leadership has won hearts not just in NZ but in Pakistan too.”

He also expressed hope for Pakistan’s better ties with New Zealand. “Looking forward to expanding

cooperation and further strengthening bonds of friendship between New Zealand and Pakistan.”

Published in Dawn, October 18th, 2020