SYDNEY - New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Saturday (Oct 17) 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, 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.
But she signalled 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 had 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.
Earlier this year, Ms Ardern moved swiftly to quell the outbreak by imposing one of the world’s most stringent lockdowns. As at Saturday, 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 has 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 on Saturday 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.”
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 on Saturday 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.