A country with more sheep than people, touted as the land of the Kiwi, New Zealand, has had a rich and diverse political history. By becoming the first nation in the world to give women the right to vote all the way back in 1893, New Zealand cemented itself as paragon for including women in a predominantly patriarchal political system. The current Prime Minister, Jacinta Ardern is one of the very few female leaders of a country, stupefying the world when she first took office aged 37 in 2017. With elections around the corner, let’s dwell into her chances of being re-elected.
Ardern joined the Labour Party aged 17 and has been unstoppable ever since. From becoming a senior member in the ‘Youth Labour’ sector of the party, to being unanimously elected the leader of the Labour Party, her journey has been sensational. In 2017 after a hung parliament ensued, the Labour Party, New Zealand First and Greens formed a coalition with Ardern as the next Prime Minister. And the rest is history…
Ardern’s leadership style has been unique yet extremely successful, despite initial concerns that her inexperience would cause her to fail. By actively reaching out to her community via Facebook Lives to introducing her daughter to the world at a UN conference, the perspicacious and charismatic leader has time and again won hearts.
Her party is poised to win the election once again and this time with a much larger share than the previous time. What has changed in the last few years? Why the sudden burgeoning popularity?
The Christchurch Crisis On 15 March 2019, New Zealand, for the first time in its modern history, witnessed a harrowing terrorist attack on the Muslim community, in which 51 people lost their lives and 40 were grievously injured. A white supremacist malevolently massacred innocent worshipers in two mosques during their Friday prayers, while livestreaming it on Facebook. Ardern, an atheist, immediately held a press conference to deliver a message that would bring her country’s citizens together, uniting them against abhorrent communal hatred. She attended the funerals and covered her head to keep true with her Muslim brethren. Within weeks of the atrocity, reforms were suggested to ban the ownership of semi-automatic guns and a second reform to further tighten the circulation was passed in March. The perpetrator was given life imprisonment without parole, an unprecedented punishment in New Zealand’s history.
The Plastic Ban ➢ Under her leadership, New Zealand banned the use of single use plastic, introducing hefty fines for miscreants. ➢ She receives a lot of letters from people, mainly children, concerned about the copious amounts of plastic in the ocean; she ensures she reads every single letter. She further said, “We’re small, and our contribution to the global emissions profile is even smaller, but we are surrounded by island nations who will feel the brunt of climate change acutely.” “I see ourselves as having a responsibility to demonstrate that we can and we will lead the charge.”
Pioneer of Women’s Rights ➢ Ardern recently announced that sanitary products will be free for young women in schools across the country from 2021, in a bid to help eradicate period poverty. She is also leading by example by not only leading a country but also being a full-time mother to her daughter, who was born with Ardern still in office. ➢ For the public in New Zealand and beyond, the new arrival in the country’s First Family has had considerable significance. She remains unmarried to her partner, Clarke Timothy Gayford. For young women, the example Ardern is setting is an affirmation that they too can expect to have that choice. For young men, Gayford being the full-time care-taker of a baby sends a powerful message that they too can exercise that choice. Working moms and stay at home dads are a perfectly acceptable lifestyle and the First Family is proudly owning it.
The White Island Eruption ➢ New Zealand had to deal with an apocalyptic volcanic eruption in December 2019. A total of 21 people succumbed to the plume of ash and lava. The investigation is ongoing, but Ardern’s response was guided by empathy. Paying tribute to those who died, she said, “Many people did extraordinary things to save lives, those who have been lost are now forever linked to New Zealand, and we will hold them close.”
The Covid – 19 Pandemic ➢ The crown jewel in Ardern’s tiara is probably the way her government dealt with the pestilential crisis that has engulfed the world. New Zealand balked the crisis with early lockdown diktats, citizen's adherence to the rules, widespread testing and contact tracing. Ardern’s transparency with her people, reforms to give an impetus to online learning and overall resolute demeanour helped ameliorate the crisis. Even as a second wave hit the country, quick lockdowns and social distancing norms helped in the attrition of the virus once again. New Zealand’s approach has been lauded as exemplary; despite having a population of over 5 million, it has had a little under 2000 cases and 25 deaths. ➢ While the economic downturn is ineluctable, by controlling the virus this early, Arden ensured that her country’s growth won’t be as stymied as some other far worse affected countries. Infact the country now plans to ease all social distancing and gathering restrictions, since the case count is in control. In addition, Arden and her cabinet have taken a 20% paycut for 6 months to aid the recovery of the crisis.
She is venerated for her supreme presence of mind, sagacious sangfroid and above all, her clarity. Her focus on empathy and authenticity have led even opposition parties to praise her at times. People in a crisis always look up to a leader than can guide them, and Ardern has time and time again proved herself.
The authenticity that she brings is the key for the amalgamation of individualistic satisfaction to transcend into national unity. Relationships are always built on mutual trust, not on obfuscated facts and prevaricated speeches. To be able to achieve all this despite being disparaged for being young and a woman is truly phenomenal.
Arden’s fastidious efforts continue even though the election date has slipped by a month. She pushed the elections from September 17th 2020 to October 17th 2020 keeping in mind the current pandemonium. By doing so she has ensured that the voter turn-out is higher, democracy has rule and most importantly, community spread is out of question. Betting markets suggest Ardern has a 93% chance of re-election, and that is unlikely to change with the new date. Her appeal for the re-election is emphasising her government’s management of the pandemic while assuring that they will be a buttress for their people. Her governance may not have been perfect, yet her alacrity of speech, esoteric intellect and limpid outreach has with cautious optimism assured a ‘slam-dunk’ victory for her next term.