WELLINGTON | New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern won a resounding general election victory on Saturday as her Labor Party was on the verge of winning an absolute majority in parliament, thanks to the government’s successes in tackling the pandemic.
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While 95% of the ballots had been counted, Labor led with 49% of the vote, which it was projected would see it control 64 of the 120 seats in Parliament.
Never has a New Zealand party achieved an absolute majority since electoral reform in 1996, so every successive prime minister has had to rule as a coalition.
“Thank you to all those people who gave us their voice, who trusted us to continue to lead the relaunch of New Zealand,” said Mme Ardern to cheering Labor activists.
“After this result, we have a mandate to accelerate our response and the recovery, and we will start tomorrow,” she told reporters questioning her about her social and environmental reforms.
Even before the final results, the leader of the conservative opposition publicly conceded defeat.
“Kudos to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, whom I called, because these are, I believe, extraordinary results for the Labor Party,” said National Party leader Judith Collins.
Best result since 1946
His formation was credited with only 27% of the vote, a score which would give him only 35 seats in Parliament, its worst result since 2002. On the other hand, it would be for Labor the best electoral result since 1946, which exceeds forecasts from polling institutes.
The leader of the center-left party, Claire Szabo, praised the campaign of the charismatic Prime Minister, which had already benefited in 2017 from an extraordinary wave of sympathy, nicknamed “Jacindamania”, which had enabled her to conquer power against all odds.
“There is no doubt that the very strong leadership of Jacinda Ardern is one of the main reasons for all of this,” said Mme Szabo to TVNZ.
Mme Ardern, who turned 40 this summer, dubbed the poll the “COVID election”, basing his campaign thoroughly on his very strong record in fighting the pandemic. New Zealand – five million people – has recorded 25 deaths from the coronavirus and the government’s strategy has been hailed by the World Health Organization (WHO).
Mme Ardern had repeatedly insisted on the need to “stick together in uncertain times”, a reminder that the second half of his mandate was marked by a succession of unprecedented crises in the archipelago.
The Prime Minister’s strength of character was particularly tested in March 2019 during the worst terrorist attack in New Zealand history, when a white supremacist coldly slaughtered 51 worshipers in two mosques in Christchurch (South).
Mme Ardern was then impressed by his attitude, his compassion for the victims and his very strong political reaction, in particular on the issue of gun control and on the need to push social networks to crack down on the spread of hate speech.
This tragedy was followed by a volcanic eruption that left 21 dead and dozens of people seriously burned in December and, this year, the pandemic.
“No matter what crisis I am going through, you will always have the confidence that I will give everything I have […], even if it involves a huge sacrifice, ”she said this week.
On the domestic policy front, the Labor leader had seen her social reforms in terms of access to housing or the reduction of child poverty being slowed down by the blockades operated by one of her coalition partners, the populist movement New Zealand First (NZF) by Winston Peters.
Greens co-leader Marama Davidson, who also belonged to the outgoing coalition, said the prime minister had a clear mandate to implement the change.
“These results show how much New Zealanders want a strong and genuinely progressive government,” she said.
Voters were also invited to vote on two referendums, the first on the recreational use of cannabis, the second on euthanasia. The results of these consultations are not expected before October 30.