New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern delays election to Oct 17 over Covid-19 pandemic concerns

SPH Brightcove Video
New Zealand on Sunday (August 16) reported 13 new confirmed cases of the coronavirus for the last 24 hours, as the country's first outbreak in months continues to grow.
Ms Jacinda Ardern said the election was delayed after consultation with other political parties, to provide certainty to voters. PHOTO: AFP

WELLINGTON (BLOOMBERG) - New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has delayed the general election by four weeks until Oct 17 as a community outbreak of Covid-19 worsens and threatens to keep the nation's largest city in lockdown for longer.

Ardern said she delayed the election from Sept 19 after consultation with other political parties, to provide certainty to voters.

A fresh outbreak of the virus in Auckland has seen the largest city locked down since Aug 12 with people urged to stay home and consumer-facing businesses shut - denting consumer confidence while making political campaigning and fund-raising impossible.

The city, home to almost one third of the nation's 5 million citizens, is a key battleground for Ardern as her Labour Party seeks a second term.

"Moving the date by four weeks also gives all parties a fair shot to campaign and delivers New Zealanders certainty without unnecessarily long delays," she told reporters. "This decision gives all parties time over the next nine weeks to campaign and the Electoral Commission enough time to ensure an election can go ahead."

The country reported nine new cases of Covid-19 on Monday, according to its health chief.

The New Zealand dollar was little changed at 65.48 US cents on the postponement news.

On Friday, Ardern extended Auckland's lockdown until at least Aug 26 saying a cluster of cases that began in a southern suburb was set to get bigger, and the best way of containing the outbreak was to limit person-to-person contact.

Social distancing rules and limits on gatherings have been reimposed on the rest of the country until the same date.

Ardern is leading in opinion polls, thanks largely due to her handling of the virus earlier this year, which saw community transmission eliminated until last week's announcement of a fresh outbreak.

Labour was on 53 per cent support in a 1News/Colmar Brunton poll published July 30 with the main opposition National Party on 32 per cent.

The poll suggests Ardern could govern alone, which is an unlikely outcome in New Zealand's proportional representation electoral system, which lends itself to coalition government.

The Green Party, a Labour ally, had 5 per cent support in the poll - giving the centre-left a strong margin over the right.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.