What Jacinda Ardern’s Election Actually Means For New Zealand

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Jacinda Ardern has been re-elected as Prime Minister after winning a majority vote in New Zealand’s national election.

It was a huge moment for the incumbent PM who has gained worldwide recognition for her handling of lots of really sensitive issues.

But despite this recognition, and claiming a landmark election victory, New Zealand’s opinion on Ardern and her politics is actually still pretty divided.

I want to find out why people still have reservations about Ardern and what her win actually means.

The Landslide Win

On October 17th New Zealand’s Labour Party won a landslide victory of 64 out of 120 seats.

It was a historic and quite surprising moment for the party who haven’t won by that many votes in half a century, and it means that Ardern doesn’t have to form a coalition government anymore.

Instead, her Labour party has enough votes to govern on its own.

So, how have people been reacting so far?

Well, Ardern has sort of gained worldwide attention because of how she’s responded to national crises like the 2019 Christchurch terror attacks, the deadly volcanic eruptions on White Island, and now COVID-19.

She’s amassed over 1.5 million followers on her social media accounts, and leaders around the world were quick to congratulate the win and praise her leadership style.

Dr David Hall from Auckland University of Technology (Te Wānanga Aronui o Tāmaki Makau Rau) isn’t overly surprised with the election outcome. Given the current climate, he kind of expected people to vote for the leader they feel most safe with.

But he told me that lots of people aren’t actually happy with how things are being run by Ardern and her government, despite how she’s navigated COVID-19.

He said that Ardern has failed to overcome housing affordability, to create a capital gains tax and to try and end child poverty, which she promised to tackle in her previous term.

Dr Hall is actually worried that if these types of inequalities aren’t addressed, New Zealand society could become increasingly divided coming out of the pandemic.

What Does The Win Mean?

So if she wasn’t delivering on policy promises, how did Ardern win?

JC: “There’s no doubt that her response to COVID played a part in this … if she hadn’t dealt with it particularly well, then the opposition would’ve had a chance.”

That’s Professor Jennifer Curtin from the University of Auckland (Te Whare Wānanga o Tāmaki Makaurau) who when we chatted, pointed out some of Ardern’s successful policies like decriminalising abortion, banning semi-automatics less than a month after the Christchurch shootings and passing a 2050 Zero Carbon Bill in parliament.

Ardern might have built a reputation as a kind and compassionate leader but Professor Curtin argues that critics are forgetting she’s also a savvy one.

JC: “If you cannot communicate with multiple generations of people then you’re not going to get your policies across and she’s a fabulous communicator and, you know there’s work that’s being done behind the scenes.”

How Is The Win Changing NZ Politics?

Professor Curtin told me that this 2020 election is really changing traditional politics for New Zealand.

The newly elected parliament is the most diverse New Zealand has ever seen, with almost half MPs being women and 10% from the LGBTIQ+ community.

Unlike Australia, New Zealand reserves seats for its Māori candidates and this year saw 15 Māori MPs in parliament – the largest representative body to date. 

ButProfessor Curtin believes that the sheer size of Ardern’s win, which saw her earn new support from more center-right leaning voters, is what makes this win both even more monumental and simultaneously challenging.

JC: “So she’s really taken quite a few voters potentially from National and if that’s the case there is a really big challenge for her to deliver for business, small business and some farmers as well as delivering for her left base – some of whom are with the greens.”

The Takeaway

During her prime ministerial career so far, Ardern has been called a new generational leader.

Her campaign to be a party that governs for every New Zealander has led her to a landmark victory, but she’s going to have to work hard now to keep a really diverse group of voters happy in uncertain times.