New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern made history this weekend, winning a second term as prime minister Saturday in an election landslide.
In a victory speech in front of hundreds of cheering supporters in Auckland, Ardern said her party had gotten more support from New Zealanders than at any time in at least 50 years.
The 40-year-old prime minister campaigned on a promise to lead the country to swift recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. The latest polls had her Labour Party leading with 46 per cent and a 15-point lead over the opposition National Party led by Judith Collins, who goes by the nickname “Crusher.”
Collins had campaigned on a platform that either an Ardern majority or left-leaning coalition would mean higher taxes as the government’s coronavirus support packages expire.
In the last debate leading up to the election, Collins warned voters about failed election promises from 2017, including a new rail line in Auckland that would be paid for with a new fuel tax.
Three years later, the tax remains but the rail line hasn’t been built.
“I think it’s very difficult to trust parties when they promise, absolutely promise that they’ll do certain things and then they don’t do those things,” Collins said.
Still, Collins had an uphill battle as she hoped to unseat one of the most popular politicians in the world.
Ardern was first elected in a 2017 election she was supposed to lose by a landslide in large part because of her charisma and communication skills. New Zealanders were so enamoured with their now-40-year-old PM they called the effect “Jacinda-mania.”
Ardern had her first child the following year, becoming the second woman in modern history after Pakistan’s Benazir Bhutto to give birth while in power. She brought her daughter with her when she gave a speech at a United Nations peace summit and defended her ability to do both jobs.
“I am by no means the first woman to multitask and in terms of being a woman in politics,” she said. “There are plenty of women who carved a path and incrementally have led the way to be able to make it possible for people to look upon my time in leadership and think, yes, I can do the job and be a mother.”
She garnered more headlines when she spoke out about climate change, saying, “this is about being on the right side of history.” But it was in 2019 that she became internationally known after a gunman with semi-automatic weapons terrorized two Christchurch mosques, killing 51 worshipers.
She promised that the country’s gun laws would change and then six days after the attack announced a ban on military-style semi-automatic and assault rifles that was passed in parliament a month later.
The 29-year old Australian white supremacist guilty of the attack was sentenced last week to life in prison without parole. Ardern said she was relieved to know “that person will never see the light of day.” She has refused to refer to him by name.
When the COVID-19 pandemic began spreading in early 2020, Ardern was quick to close New Zealand’s borders to anyone who had visited mainland China. That was February, and in March, Ardern closed the country’s borders to all foreigners and started a one-month compulsory lockdown with a warning of huge fines and jail time for anybody breaking quarantine.
The tactic worked, with Ardern announcing New Zealand had effectively wiped out COVID-19 within its borders by June.
“I did a little dance,” she said at the time.
Given the result at New Zealand’s polls, she’s doing another little dance this weekend.
–With files from The Canadian Press
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