New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has been praised around the world for her government’s quick action on Covid-19, which helped New Zealand prevent mass infections and deaths that plagued the US and Europe. Today, voters in the country responded to his leadership by giving Ardern and his Labor Party their biggest election victory in 50 years.
Ardern, 40, gained international attention when she became prime minister in 2017, then one of the youngest female leaders. Earlier this year, his central left party looked for a tight election due to lack of development on issues it promised to prioritize, such as housing and reducing child poverty, CNN reported.
Then came Covid-19. Ardern responded quickly, with an early lockdown that essentially eliminated the spread of the virus. He also spoke directly to New Zealanders with a warmth and empathy lacking in other world leaders, helping to alleviate the anxieties of New Zealanders and ride them on coronavirus restrictions. So far, New Zealand has reported less than 2,000 cases and 25 deaths due to Covid-19.
In Saturday’s election, Ardern’s party is on track to win 64 of the 120 seats in the country’s parliament, according to Reuters. That would give the Labor Party decisive control over the government, allow it to lead without having to form a coalition, and give Ardern and his allies more power than ever to chart New Zealand’s course through the pandemic etc.
“We will change for the better from the Covid crisis,” Ardern said in his inaugural address on Saturday, evoking a slogan used by former Vice President Joe Biden’s presidential campaign. “This is our chance.”
Ardern has always been famous abroad. Now he has a mandate at home.
Ardern has maintained a high profile worldwide since he was elected, Damien Cave reported in the New York Times. Not only did her youth get attention – she was also the first leader in the world for almost 30 years giving birth while in office in 2018. Her six-week parental leave was hailed as groundbreaking, showing its importance. paid vacation for parents at a time when many – especially in the US – are struggling to access this benefit. (In New Zealand, new parents can access up to 26 weeks of government-funded paid vacation.)
But Ardern was not always successful at home because he was famous abroad. Leading a coalition with the nationalist New Zealand First Party, he struggled to deliver progressive commitments such as making housing more affordable and tackling climate change, Cave reports.
Covid-19 then changed everything. Ardern is praised not only worldwide but in New Zealand, where his quick action means many children can go back to school, and adults can go back to work, while countries like of the US has seen an influx of infections.
Meanwhile, his personal addresses in the midst of the pandemic among New Zealanders were praised for their directness and warmth. For example, in April, he assured the country’s children that both the tooth fairy and the Easter rabbit were considered important workers.
Ardern’s response was in many ways embodied in one of his leadership mantras: “Be strong, be kind.” The effectiveness of Ardern, along with the resilient responses of Angela Merkel of Germany, Tsai Ing-Wen of Taiwan, and others, still leads some to wonder if female leaders are better at handling the pandemic than male leaders.
And now, his constituents have voted to keep him at the helm while New Zealand continues to assess the Covid-19. With a majority in the country’s parliament, Labor could form a single party government that could give Ardern more ability to deliver on his priorities than ever before.
Despite this mandate, Ardern’s second term will bring new challenges including fixing an economy that has slowed down a series of lockdowns, and ensuring that his majority has delivered on campaign promises. “He has significant political capital,” Jennifer Curtin, director of the Public Policy Institute at the University of Auckland, told the Times. “He needs to keep his promises with more ingredients.”
But Ardern said he was ready to work. The campaign slogan that led him to success was simple: “Let’s keep moving.”
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