By: Rahem Hamid — Senior Political Correspondent
US residents woke on Saturday morning to the news that New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern had won a sweeping re-election victory. The Labour Party is on track to win 64 seats in New Zealand’s 120 seat Parliament, the first time ever since the country switched to a mixed-member proportional parliamentary system in 1996. The election was pushed back one month after New Zealand grappled with COVID-19. Initially, Ardern’s odds looked to be much closer to that of the opposition National Party’s Judith Collins.
Ardern skyrocketed to international attention following her election as New Zealand’s Prime Minister in 2017. Elected at just age 37, she was the world’s youngest female head of state. Following the birth of her daughter Neve in 2018, Ardern became only the second elected head of state in history to give birth while in office, the first being then Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who gave birth while in office in 1990.
But it was her actions in office that demonstrated the strong and compassionate leadership that defined her relatively successful first term. Ardern faced tremendous national tragedies and difficulties in her first three years. In 2019, New Zealand suffered the deadliest terror attack in its history, when a white supremacist opened fire in Al Noor Mosque in Christchurch. 51 worshipers were killed. The empathy, strength, and resolve that Ardern projected to the people of New Zealand and the world was fitting of one of the world’s finest leaders. By mid-April, just weeks after the attack, Ardern pushed through a total reform of gun laws in the country.
Ardern’s immediate response to COVID-19 earned widespread praise from across the globe. Her quick move to implement restrictive lockdowns across the country no doubt saved countless lives. To date, the WHO notes that New Zealand has reported only 25 COVID-19 deaths and just 1,531 cases. This is in stark contrast to the more than 8 million cases in the US, the ~7.5 million in India, and the ~5.2 million in Brazil. The country has, for the most part, returned to normal. Without a doubt, the leadership of Jacinda Ardern and her government are those we must credit.
Of course, Ardern is not a perfect world leader. Critics note, correctly, that she has not fulfilled all of her campaign promises. News outlets note that child poverty is still a problem, housing is not extremely affordable, and there exists a slew of other things left for Ardern and her new government to tackle. But Ardern’s electoral victory shows the world that right-wing nationalism, populist theatrics, and hard-line views have met their match in New Zealand. Judith Collins is none of those things, not by a long shot. But Ardern can’t reasonably be accused of any of them – and so her victory tells a world striving for democracy, peace, and moderation, that all is not lost. In a world filled with political division, disagreement, and dangerous polarization, reasonability is still valued.
The United States has much to learn from New Zealand politics. Journalist Karen Sweeney tweeted on election night a picture of two opposing candidates with the message “Only in NZ could you call to concede, get invited to your opponent’s party for a beer, and show up”. Such respect for the other side is what we are lacking. Ardern’s victory, and New Zealand politics at large, tell us that sanity and decency will still prevail. Ardern’s victory reminds us that qualification and effective governance still dominate. There is hope in the world today.
Ardern had said she would quit politics if she had lost this election. The country of New Zealand has perhaps made its best political decision in recent years by re-electing their Prime Minister, Ms. Jacinda Ardern.