New Zealand votes with polls pointing to big win for Jacinda Ardern



The main question in Saturday’s election was whether the Labour Party would win big enough to gain control of parliament without needing a coalition partner. Among the challenges for the next government: an economy severely wracked by the pandemic and loss of critical tourism revenue.

Voters, however, appeared more willing to reward Ardern for her handling of the pandemic than punish her for its blow to the economy.

Her government’s response to outbreaks of the coronavirus — including some of the strictest lockdowns and border controls in the world — is attributed to achieving some of the lowest death rates in the world with just 25 recorded fatalities.

National Party President Peter Goodfellow told Stuff just after polls closed on Saturday that the party was likely to lose.

“Looking at this I think we probably can’t win it but I certainly think we will get a respectful number,” Goodfellow told the news site.

Earlier Saturday, orderly queues formed under a mild spring sky outside of schools and churches, inside malls and myriad other polling locations across the country. Election day brought with it news that a total of 1.9 million New Zealanders cast advance ballots, 57 percent of all enrolled voters, hinting at a possible record turnout.

In keeping with what has become a lighthearted kiwi tradition, originating from the ban on posting partisan media content on election day, many voters visited the polling booth with their pet canines, with many sharing images of their dogs on social media.

Jane Jones, 49, cast her vote in the St Martin’s suburb of Christchurch Saturday. “I feel like there’s been a lot more discussion amongst our friends about what we’re thinking, about what we value,” in the lead-in to the election, she said, largely due to the two referendum questions accompanying the vote for representatives.

“I guess there’s quite a bit at stake because of covid,” she added, reflecting on the high turnout so far.

She added that, in such testing times, she appreciated the opportunity to be able to consider voting for a range of parties who, under New Zealand’s proportionate representation system, have a shot at gaining seats in parliament. “I think it’s really dangerous when we get into just a red and a blue vote and when people get binary in their opinions,” she continued.

“In the current climate, I believe that voting is more important than ever,” Christchurch-based student Riley Bray, 23, said, citing issues like climate change. His vote was cast Saturday, he added, by making “decisions on what I think my future children would want.”

Ardern faced another unprecedented test last year after a gunman opened fire at two Christchurch mosques, claiming 51 lives. Her outreach to the Muslim community and backing of a bill that banned most ­assault-style weapons was applauded by many in New Zealand and brought her global recognition.

Her embrace of international cooperation and pan-national issues, including climate change, earned her the nickname “the anti-Trump” among her supporters.

Despite Ardern’s star power, landslide victories are a rarity under New Zealand’s proportional representation system that delivers parliament seats to any party taking more than 5 percent of the popular vote. That may force Labour into a power-sharing agreement with the Green Party, showing between 6 percent and 8 percent in pre-election polling.

During campaigning, Judith Collins, Ardern’s rival who heads the center-right National Party, repeatedly sought to promote her credentials as a business-friendly leader better placed to return growth to the country’s pandemic-battered economy, invoking the prospect of a left-wing coalition stalling recovery.

New Zealand’s recession may be more protracted and severe than that which followed the global financial crash, with Ardern’s lockdown contributing to a GDP contraction of 12.2 percent between April and June, and more bad news expected over coming months.

But more is on the ballot Saturday than who gets to run the country.

The election also includes two referendum questions concerning the legalization of cannabis and whether to permit “assisted dying” when requested, under certain conditions, by the terminally ill. If both pass, New Zealand will follow in the footsteps of Canada and some European states, although polling suggests a close contest on either issue.

Record levels of advance voting have occurred despite the relative lack of coronavirus worries. More than 1.7 million people — roughly half the electorate — voted early since Oct. 3.



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