Jacinda Ardern leads party to outright majority in a first for New Zealand polls

Labour Party's feat is historic win since nation adopted proportional voting system in 1996

Above: New Zealand opposition leader Judith Collins congratulated Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern (right, in red) on an "outstanding" result yesterday. Right: Ms Ardern with her partner Clarke Gayford at Auckland Town Hall last night. She said Labour's
Ms Ardern with her partner Clarke Gayford at Auckland Town Hall last night. She said Labour's strong win - its best result in decades - would allow it to accelerate its response to the coronavirus pandemic and push ahead for a quick and transformative economic recovery.PHOTOS: EPA-EFE, BLOOMBERG

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern yesterday delivered the biggest election victory for her Labour Party in half a century, leading her party to an outright majority in Parliament.

It is the first party to achieve this feat since the country adopted a proportional voting system in 1996.

To form the government, a party needs to win 61 of 120 seats.

But since the mixed member proportional system was introduced in which each voter has two votes - a party vote and an electorate vote - no party has been able to do so on its own.

Delivering an upbeat victory speech last night, Ms Ardern said Labour's strong win - its best result in decades - would allow it to accelerate its response to the coronavirus pandemic and push ahead for a quick and transformative economic recovery.

But she signalled that she intended to adopt a centrist agenda, even though her centre-left party will now be able to pass legislation unimpeded.

"We will be a party that governs for every New Zealander," she said.

"We will govern as we campaigned - positively, with optimism… Now more than ever is the time to keep going, to keep working."

Labour received 49 per cent of the vote, compared with 27 per cent for the opposition National Party.

Labour is expected to pick up 64 of the 120 seats in Parliament, with 35 for National, 10 each for the Green and the ACT parties, and one seat for the Maori Party.

The New Zealand First party, which is currently in the ruling coalition and is led by Foreign Minister Winston Peters, failed to win a seat.

Since her surprise success at the 2017 election, Ms Ardern, 40, has won acclaim for her empathetic responses to the Christchurch terrorist attack, in which a white supremacist killed 51 people at two mosques, and to a deadly volcanic eruption on White Island.

  • How its voting system works

  • New Zealand holds a general election every three years. The Parliament has 120 seats.

    Under its mixed member proportional (MMP) system, voters get two votes each - one for their preferred party and another for their electorate, or constituency, MP.

    When a voter votes for a party, that helps to determine the number of seats in Parliament each party gets.

    A party must receive more than 5 per cent of the party vote or win an electorate seat to enter Parliament. A number of seats are reserved for Maori candidates.

    As the MMP is a proportional system, the share of seats a party wins in Parliament is about the same as its share of the party vote.

    When a voter votes for a candidate, that helps to choose who represents the electorate the voter lives in. This is called the electorate vote.

    The candidate with the most votes wins, and becomes an MP.

    Usually, no party gets enough votes to govern alone.

    Parties often need to come to an agreement with other parties to form a coalition government.

    However, last night, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's Labour Party secured the first outright majority in Parliament since the introduction of the MMP in 1996.


Earlier this year, Ms Ardern moved swiftly to quell the outbreak by imposing one of the world's most stringent lockdowns. As at yesterday, the country of about five million residents recorded 1,883 cases and just 25 deaths.

Aside from curbs on international travellers, life has returned to normal and restrictions have largely been removed.

Campaigning on the slogan "Build back better", Ms Ardern promised to focus on economic recovery but promoted relatively modest policies.

She pledged to support small businesses, boost vocational training, invest in infrastructure, address child poverty, and adopt tougher measures to reduce carbon emissions and support renewable energy.

She said the world was increasingly polarised but New Zealand's polls had shown that disagreements could be settled civilly, without exacerbating divisions. "Elections aren't always great at bringing people together, but they also don't need to tear one another apart."

During the campaign, National's leader Judith Collins attacked Ms Ardern over her handling of Covid-19 quarantine facilities, suggesting this led to a second wave of infections in August.

She also said Labour would support the Green Party's wealth tax on high-earning New Zealanders - a claim Ms Ardern rejected.

Ms Collins last night congratulated Ms Ardern on an "outstanding" result. "National will re-emerge from this loss a stronger, disciplined and more connected party," she said. "I promise you, the National Party will be a robust opposition."

New Zealand's opposition leader Judith Collins has vowed to stay on as leader regardless of the result. PHOTO: EPA-EFA

Before the 2017 election, Ms Ardern, a young and relatively unknown leader, stunned the nation during the campaign as she gained huge personal support in a phenomenon labelled "Jacindamania".

Her win last night showed that the mania has continued, and perhaps grown more fervent among the country's 3.5 million voters.

Yet, she now faces the unenviable task of addressing a country that is in the grip of a severe economic downturn.

Sustaining the mania in her second three-year term may prove more difficult than during her first.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 18, 2020, with the headline 'Ardern leads party to outright majority in a first for NZ polls'. Print Edition | Subscribe