New Zealand’s prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, has been returned to office in a resounding victory over her rivals, winning nearly 50% of the vote – her National Party rival has conceded defeat.
“New Zealand has shown the Labour Party its greatest support in almost 50 years […] We will not take your support for granted. And I can promise you we will be a party that governs for every New Zealander.”
Ardern, who became prime minister in 2017, has been leading a minority government, with her Labour Party coming second in New Zealand’s last general election in 2017. She became prime minister in 2017, despite not winning the plurality of seats, by forming a minority coalition government with the New Zealand First Party and a confidence and supply arrangement that carried her government to an effective majority.
No such coalition will be required this time though, as the hugely popular leader and MP representing Mount Albert (Auckland) has been returned with a significant victory that will see her serve a second term in office.
Ardern has made many headlines throughout her time in office, with her government being hugely successful in bringing progressive reforms to New Zealand, such as increasing the minimum wage and significant environmental commitments.
She has also been prominent on the international stage, in 2018 becoming the second female national leader to give birth whilst in office – after Benazir Bhutto – before attending a United Nations summit in New York with her newborn.
The following year she made international attention again, following a massacre of worshippers at two Mosques in the south island city of Christchurch by an Australian citizen. She was visibly moved by the events and grieved alongside all of those affected, before bringing in decisive gun reform that would prevent a similar tragedy from ever occurring again.
Her success as New Zealand’s prime minister was only heightened throughout 2020 when she was incredibly successful in dealing with the Coronavirus pandemic within the county. New Zealand had amongst the fewest numbers of cases throughout the world and was noted for their incredible success; last week, there were more Coronavirus cases reported amongst White House staff in the United States than the whole population of New Zealand.
It is her incredible success in office, bringing significant reform combined with strong and compassionate government, despite a coalition, that saw her become extremely popular throughout the country.
The election had been due to take place in September and had been postponed by the pandemic, though almost one-quarter of New Zealanders cast their ballot throughout the first two weeks of October when early voting opened.
New Zealand has a parliamentary system, but instead of First Past The Post uses a Mixed Member Representation, where some list candidates are added to parliament to reflect the popular vote, as well as there being MPs representing specific seats. The system was introduced in 1996 and no party has ever managed to secure the 61 seats required for a majority in the 24 years since.
Ardern however, looks set to achieve 64 seats in parliament, making it a historic victory for her and her party.
With a renewed mandate and her popularity in no doubt her second term is likely to bring increasingly progressive reforms to the country, but blighted by economic crisis brought on by the Coronavirus pandemic, the first majority in a quarter of a century could still provide the prime minister with significant challenges.