AUCKLAND, New Zealand – Current New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern won another term on Saturday in a historic election landslide, seen by many as a nod to her handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
In a victory speech in front of hundreds of cheering supporters in Auckland, Ardern, 40, said her party had received more support from New Zealanders at any time for at least 50 years.
“This has not been a common choice, and it is not a common time,” she said. “It’s been full of insecurity and anxiety, and we set out to be an antidote to it.”
With the most votes counted, the Ardennes Liberal Labor Party won 49 percent of the vote against 27 percent for its main challenger, the Conservative National Party.
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Labor was aiming to win a direct majority of seats in parliament, something that has not happened since New Zealand implemented a proportional voting system 24 years ago. Typically, the parties must enter into alliances to govern, but this time, Ardern and Labor can do it alone.
Ardern did not promise to take his new supporters for granted and rule for all New Zealanders.
“We live in an increasingly polarized world, a place where more and more people have lost the ability to see each other’s point of view,” she said. “I think New Zealanders in this election have shown that this is not who we are.”
A record number of voters cast early ballots in the two weeks leading up to the election.
On the campaign trail, Ardern was greeted like a rock star by people standing together in malls, spilling out into the streets to cheer her on and take selfies with her.
Her popularity rose earlier this year after she led a successful effort to eradicate coronavirus.
There is currently no societal spread of the virus in the nation of 5 million and people are no longer required to wear masks or social distance.
Ardern won the top job after the 2017 election, when Labor formed an alliance with two other parties. The following year, she became only the second world leader to give birth while in office.
Thus, she became a role model for working mothers around the world, many of whom saw her as a counterpoint to President Donald Trump. She was also praised for her handling of last year’s attacks on two Christchurch mosques when a white supremacist shot down 51 Muslim worshipers.
In the wake, she quickly moved to enact new laws banning the deadly types of semi-automatic weapons.
At the end of March this year, when only about 100 people had tested positive for COVID-19, Ardern and her health officials put New Zealand in a strict lockdown with the motto “Go hard and go early.”
She closed the borders and outlined an ambitious goal of eliminating the virus completely instead of just trying to control its spread. When New Zealand had the advantage of being an isolated island nation, the strategy worked.
The country eliminated transmission of society for 102 days before a new cluster was discovered in August in Auckland. Ardern quickly introduced another lockdown in Auckland and the new outburst disappeared. The only new cases recently found have been among returning travelers who are in quarantine.
The Auckland eruption also caused Ardern to postpone the election by a month and helped increase early turnout.
The leader of the National Party, Judith Collins, is a former lawyer and served as a minister when National was in power and is proud of a blunt, non-nonsense approach – a contrast to Arden’s empathic style.
In a speech to her supporters in Auckland, Collins said she had called Ardern to congratulate her.
“It’s an excellent result for the Labor Party,” Collins said. “It’s been a tough campaign.”
Collins promised that the party would be back to fight another day.