With the most votes counted, Arden’s center-left Labor Party is expected to take 49 percent of the vote, which will mean 64 out of 120 parliamentary seats and a firm majority.
But it would also carry her burden of reviving New Zealand’s violent economy, hit by some of the world’s toughest pandemic lockdown rules and travel bans that cleared the critical tourism industry.
A brilliant Ardern, 40, opened his victory speech at Auckland City Hall with a greeting in Te Reo Maori, the native language of New Zealand.
“Tonight, New Zealand has shown the Labor Party its greatest support for at least 50 years,”
Unlike today’s “polarizing world”, Ardern promised to “rule as we fought: positively with an optimism about our future.”
Ardern was expected to win the election. But the most important unknown was with how much.
Labor’s largest opposition party, the center-right national party, is expected to have won about 27 percent or 35 seats, down from 44 percent in the last election in 2017.
At the beginning of the year, before the pandemic, opinion polls showed the Labor parties and the national parties in a tight race.
It was despite Ardern’s growing international fame and her handling of the massacres in the Christchurch Mosque that claimed 51 lives and stunned a nation with low gun crime rates. Ardern was hailed for her outreach to New Zealand’s Muslim community and pushed for too quick legislation to ban most offensive firearms.
However, Arden’s election prospects began to change in the months since the coronavirus took over the world.
Ardern adopted a lockdown as the isolated country of 5 million had just over 100 coronavirus cases. In recent months, New Zealand has officially reported less than 2,000 cases and 25 deaths related to covid-19, among the world’s lowest numbers.
These policies have not been without painful consequences.
New Zealand is facing its worst recession in decades, largely due to the government’s harsh response. The shutdowns mixed with already existing immigration policies have also left migrant workers stranded outside the country and shared mixed national families, even though the authorities have drawn up repatriation schemes.
Still, it seems that Arden’s rivals in the National Party have not convinced a majority of voters that their more conservative economic policies would be preferable.
Ardern is also facing another election period in which rising tensions with China are looming large, including Ardern’s allegations of Beijing interference in New Zealand’s affairs.
New Zealand supported Taiwan’s bid for a role in the World Health Organization in May and supported calls for an investigation into the cause of the new coronavirus pandemic, which was first discovered in Wuhan, China.
In a July speech to Chinese business, Ardern emphasized his government’s “principle-based approach to our foreign policy” on issues including Hong Kong and the violation of rights against Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang.
Later that month, New Zealand suspended its extradition agreement with Hong Kong following the introduction of a Beijing-backed national security law that sharply limits political disagreement.
Ardern has repeatedly stated that New Zealand seeks to diversify trade relations away from China. But New Zealand’s tourism, agriculture and education sectors remain heavily dependent on China.
When she was elected in 2017, Ardern, then 37, was the country’s youngest living leader. She gave birth a year later and became only the second world leader to do so while in office. She has since been celebrated as a role model for working mothers.
Ardern’s brand of compassionate politics – “please” became her slogan during the pandemic – has been championed in stark contrast to President Trump’s polarizing approach, which she has occasionally hit heads with.
She has also been a strong advocate of international cooperation on topics such as climate change, with supporters naming her “anti-Trump” as a result.
The final results and the subsequent allocation of parliamentary seats will not be released for three weeks to allow time for counting special ballot papers, such as
Likewise, the results of referendum questions on the legalization of recreational cannabis use and “assisted dying” at the vote will not be published for two weeks.
This year, about 1.9 million people, or about half of those eligible to vote, cast their ballots by early voting, which began on October 3rd.
New Zealand adopted its proportional voting structure in 1996. Coalition governments are the norm and no single party has won a majority of votes in 24 years.
Berger reported from Washington.