According to the majority of the counted votes, the center-left Labor Party of Arderna is projected to get 49 percent of the vote, which would mean 64 out of 120 seats and a solid majority.
But it will also allow it to bear the brunt of reviving New Zealand’s battered economy, hit by some of the world’s toughest pandemic blocking rules and travel bans that have neutralized an important tourism industry.
The radiant 40-year-old Ardern opened her triumphant speech at Auckland City Hall with a greeting in Theoreo-Maori, the native language of New Zealand.
“Tonight, New Zealand has shown its greatest support for the Labor Party for at least 50 years,”; she continued. “We will not take your support for granted, and I promise you that we will be the party that will lead every New Zealander.”
Unlike today’s “polarized world,” Ardern promised to “lead when we campaigned: positively, with optimism about our future.”
Ardern was expected to win the election. But the main thing was unknown how much.
Labor’s main opposition party, the center-right National Party, is projected to win about 27 percent, or 35 seats, up from 44 percent in the last 2017 election.
At the beginning of the year, before the pandemic, polls showed Labor and national parties in a tough race.
This was despite Ardern’s growing international fame and the onslaught of pogroms at the Christchurch Mosque, which claimed 51 lives and stunned the low-crime country. Ardern was applauded for embracing the Muslim community of New Zealand, and insisted on the adoption of swift legislation banning most firearms in the style of attack.
However, Ardern’s election prospects began to change from the months when the coronavirus spread around the world.
Ardern used the blockade when there were just over 100 cases of coronavirus in an isolated country of 5 million. In recent months, New Zealand has officially reported less than 2,000 cases and 25 deaths related to Covid-19, among the lowest in the world.
This policy did not go without painful consequences.
New Zealand is facing its worst recession in decades, largely due to a tough government response. Exceptions mixed with existing immigration policies have also resulted in migrant workers being outside the country and splitting families with different national parties, although repatriation bodies have been set up by the authorities.
However, Ardern’s rivals in the National Party do not seem to have been able to convince the majority of voters that their more conservative economic policies would be better.
Shadow of China
Ardern also faces a second term when growing tensions with China are looming, including Ardern’s statements about Beijing’s interference in New Zealand’s affairs.
New Zealand backed Taiwan’s bid to join the World Health Organization in May and backed calls to investigate the cause of a new coronavirus pandemic that was first detected in Wuhan, China.
In a July speech to the Chinese business community, Ardern emphasized her government’s “principled approach to our foreign policy” on issues including Hong Kong and violations of Uighur Muslim rights in Xinjiang.
Later that month, New Zealand suspended its extradition agreement with Hong Kong following the imposition of Beijing’s national security law, which severely restricts political dissent.
Ardern has repeatedly pointed out 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.
The motto “please”
When she was elected in 2017, Ardern, then 37, was the country’s youngest living leader. A year later, she gave birth, becoming only the second world leader to do so while in office. Since then, it is celebrated as a model for working mothers.
Ardern’s brand of sympathetic policy – “please” – became her catchphrase during the pandemic – strongly opposed to President Trump’s polarization approach, with which she sometimes hits heads.
She is also active in advocating for international cooperation on issues such as climate change, which is why supporters call her “anti-Trump”.
The final results and further distribution of seats will not be made public for three weeks to allow time for the counting of special ballots, such as New Zealanders living abroad.
Similarly, the results of the referendum on the legalization of recreational cannabis use and the “death that died” during the voting will not be published for two weeks.
This year, about 1.9 million people, or about half of the electorate, voted in early voting, which began on October 3.
New Zealand adopted its proportional voting structure in 1996. Coalition governments exist by the norm, and no party has won a majority in 24 years.
Berger reported from Washington.