Youngest PM in 150 years to lead new NZ govt

Labour leader wins backing from minor nationalist party after 12 days of negotiations

New Zealand will get its youngest prime minister in more than 150 years after the small, nationalist New Zealand First Party agreed to form a new government with Labour Party leader Jacinda Ardern, ending the National Party's decade in power.
Ms Jacinda Ardern arriving at Parliament in Wellington yesterday for a press conference. She is leading Labour into office for the first time in nine years.
Ms Jacinda Ardern arriving at Parliament in Wellington yesterday for a press conference. She is leading Labour into office for the first time in nine years.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

WELLINGTON • Ms Jacinda Ardern will become New Zealand's youngest prime minister in more than 150 years, after winning the backing of a minor nationalist party to form a coalition government.

After 12 days of negotiations, New Zealand First leader Winston Peters yesterday threw his support behind the 37-year-old, saying an economic slowdown was looming and that capitalism needed to regain its "human face".

"It is an absolute honour and a privilege to have the ability to form a government for all New Zealanders," Ms Ardern told reporters.

She said the talks with New Zealand First "have formed a solid foundation on which we can build a coalition government".

The announcement caps a stunning rise for Ms Ardern, who became Labour leader less than two months before the Sept 23 election and will now take the party into office for the first time in nine years.

The local currency dropped on concern that the new government's policies, such as a potential cut in immigration, may curb economic growth.

  • Rookie leader


    Jacinda Kate Laurell Ardern, 37


    Holds a communications degree from Waikato University.


    Labour. Took over its leadership on July 31, two months before the election last month.


    Born in Hamilton, on the North Island; Her father is a policeman, and she grew up in Murupara, which has a mainly Maori population, and another small town, Morrinsville.


    Lives with her partner, TV presenter Clarke Gayford.


    Brought up as a Mormon, but is now agnostic after leaving the faith over its anti-homosexual stance.


    She has worked in the office of former prime minister Helen Clark, New Zealand's first elected female leader, and as a policy adviser to former British prime minister Tony Blair during a stint in London.


    She was elected president of the International Union of Socialist Youth in 2008, and entered Parliament in 2008 at 28.


    Making tertiary education free, decriminalising abortion, cutting immigration and lifting children out of poverty. She has also called for making the teaching of the Maori language compulsory in schools.


    Decrying sexist questions about whether she had plans to have a baby, which she was asked on becoming Labour leader.


    She has 80,000 Twitter followers, more than any other MP. She enjoys being a DJ.


"In terms of political risks, we have gone from zero out of 10 to four or five out of 10," said Ms Annette Beacher, head of Asia-Pacific research at TD Securities in Singapore.

Ms Ardern's rise has drawn comparisons with the generational change in leadership seen in countries such as Canada and France.

While New Zealand's economy is growing strongly, she has argued that too many people have been left behind during nine years of conservative government, and pledged to tackle social issues such as child poverty and housing affordability.

Labour and New Zealand First both campaigned on reducing immigration, increasing home construction and reforming the central bank.

Ms Ardern said New Zealand First will hold four Cabinet positions, which she expects to confirm next week, with details of final policies. The coalition agreement will be signed early next week, she said.

With the additional support of Labour's ally, the Green Party, the new government will control 63 of the 120 seats in Parliament.

The ruling National Party, led by Mr Bill English, won 56 seats. New Zealand's proportional representation electoral system has favoured coalitions, but yesterday's decision is the first time the party with the most votes has not led the government. Labour got 36.9 per cent of the vote, while National had 44.4 per cent.

Mr Peters said the negotiations to form a government took place against changing economic circumstances "which we cannot ignore", and that the first signs of a slowdown in the New Zealand economy are there. Economic growth slowed to 2.5 per cent in the year through June, from 3.4 per cent a year earlier.

"Far too many New Zealanders have come to view today's capitalism, not as their friend but as their foe," he said. "And they are not all wrong. That is why we believe capitalism must regain its human face."

Labour has proposed a US Federal Reserve-style dual mandate for the central bank of full employment and price stability, and a committee decision-making system including external members.

Mr Peters said there will be changes to the Reserve Bank Act, and implied they would be in line with Labour's policy, saying he did not secure a Singapore-style monetary policy that he favours.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 20, 2017, with the headline 'Youngest PM in 150 years to lead new NZ govt'. Subscribe