SYDNEY, Australia – Her face has appeared on magazine covers around the world. His leadership style was studied by Harvard scholars. Her scientific and supportive approach to the coronavirus, which included answering questions in a sweatshirt after putting her daughter to bed, has attracted legions of fans in other countries who write to say, “I wish you were here.”
The global left (and a slice of the center) has fallen hard for Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand, giving her a prodigious presence for a leader who manages a smaller population than many mayors. Now the voters from his country have arrived.
Riding a wave of support for her “go hard, go fast” response to the coronavirus, which has effectively been suppressed in the country, Ms Ardern has now solidified her position as New Zealand’s most popular prime minister in generations, if not never. .
The sizable victory reflects a rapid rise to political stardom.
Just three years ago, Mrs. Ardern was a last-minute choice to lead the Labor Party, and in his first term he has often struggled to deliver on his progressive promises, from making housing more accessible to eradicating child poverty and attacking climate change.
But after handling the responses to the The Christchurch terror attacks, the eruption of the White Island volcano and a pandemic – not to mention the birth of her first child – has quickly become a global standard-bearer for a progressive policy that calls itself compassionate and competent in crisis.
“The anti-Trump?” That’s what Vogue called it. “Santa Jacinda?” That comes from the usual serene Financial Times, while a New York Times editorial last year bore the headline: “America Deserves a Leader as Good as Jacinda Ardern.”
In New Zealand, a kind of petty-conservative or petty-centered country where love for Ms. Ardern had generally delayed her profile abroad, she now finally has a mandate that corresponds (almost) to her international worship. If Labor’s margin holds, it will be the first time since 1951 that a party has won more than 50 percent of the vote in New Zealand.
What is unknown is whether this will help deliver the major political successes that have eluded it.
“It has significant political capital,” said Jennifer Curtin, director of the Public Policy Institute at the University of Auckland. “He will have to keep his promises with more substance.”
Ms Ardern said very little about her legislative plans. It won mainly with a wave of pandemic-fueled support, as New Zealand recently declared the elimination of community transmission of the coronavirus for the second time.
The remote Pacific Island nation of five million, which only counted 25 deaths from coronavirus, now looks and feels mostly normal: A recent rugby match between Australia and New Zealand in Wellington, the capital, has attracted 30,000 fans.
Given such progress when other countries are seeing increased coronavirus cases, Ms. Ardern sailed through her campaign with the slogan, “Let’s keep moving.”
Her opponent, Judith Collins, a lawyer and member of the National Center-Right Party, tried to dent her credibility by claiming that the virus resurfaced in August under Ms. Ardern’s surveillance due to some sort of border protocol violation. or in a quarantine facility.
In a handful of debates, Ms. Collins has tried to portray Ms. Ardern as unreliable, more brilliant than constant leader. In the final days of the race, he labeled the prime minister a liar.
“He told us that on June 23, everyone was being tested. What a lie, “Ms. Collins said in one of the events of her final campaign this week.” When she said she went strong and fast, she became slow and pathetic. And she lied to us about what was going on. “
Polls showed that Ms. Collins never gained much traction with attack lines like these.
But even as Ms Ardern has moved on to another mandate, her next government will face a number of unknown challenges.
New Zealanders have historically valued their politics halfway. Coalition governments are the norm, and Ms Ardern’s first term was marked by a partnership with New Zealand’s first center-right populist party, which this time would not get seats.
Now Labor will be able to govern on its own with the support of the Greens (it was expected to get around 10 seats), giving it more leeway to move left. This will increase the pressure on her to deliver on the progressive promises she has made for years about eradicating child poverty, about solving a housing crisis that has suffered many middle-class families, and about tackling climate change more aggressively.
The central decision Ms. Ardern faces is how far to go, with what proposals, at a time when the economy is still threatened by the pandemic and the party she leads is still uncertain what to do with her sudden fortune.
In a parliamentary democracy like New Zealand’s, legislation can move quickly, which means that the success or failure of new policies will fall directly on its shoulders.
“If you can’t blame the minor party for putting the handbrake on, then you better make sure you deliver,” said Richard Shaw, a professor of politics at Massey University in Palmerston North.
One option might be to ditch his usual preference for consent and get as far and fast as possible. The most likely choice, observers say, is that it will recognize it has won in part with center-right voters and remain in the center as it leans for a third or fourth term: a Labor dynasty.
In essence, Professor Curtin said, “she is a reformist rather than a radical”.
Morgan Godfery, a writer and commentator specializing in political issues affecting the indigenous Maori people, said Ms. Ardern reflects the political environment from which she was born.
“The Labor Party is something of a contradiction at the moment, because it’s more popular than at any time since the 1940s, but it’s more cautious,” he said. “They don’t seem quite sure how they will use that popularity. There are very few new ideas on housing, taxes and Maori matters.”
During the campaign, Ms Ardern ruled out a Greens-favored wealth tax, which would require people with net worth of over NZ $ 1 million, or approximately $ 665,000, to pay 1% of their wealth beyond above this threshold as a tax. Those worth more than $ 2 million would pay 2%.
When asked for a new idea to stimulate the post-pandemic economy during the second debate in late September, he provided a conventional answer.
“Investing in our people,” he said. “Make the apprenticeship free. Make professional training free. Put them in professional jobs that make the economy grow “.
Professor Curtin said that in many ways, Ms Ardern’s response to the economic impact of the pandemic – emphasizing infrastructure, small businesses and exporters – reflected traditional thinking that neglected industries, such as healthcare and healthcare. childcare, which could do more for the economy and encourage more equality.
“She said she was a feminist,” said Professor Curtin, “but she was careful and perhaps a little too slow in addressing the material well-being of many women in New Zealand, especially poorer women or older women. “.
Oliver Hartwich, executive director of the New Zealand Initiative, a center-right think tank, said Ms Ardern was a more effective communicator than the policy strategist.
“When it comes to PR, when it comes to her daily press conference on the Covid crisis – bringing people along and explaining what she wants to do and what she wants to achieve, there is no one who even comes close to what Jacinda does. It’s phenomenal and a genuine talent, “Hartwich said.
“Where she’s not good,” she added, “is in the details of the policy, the details of the strategy, the execution, the implementation, the evaluations, all the normal things that go with the government. ‘height. “
For many voters this week, however, Ms Ardern’s clear skills in crisis management have been more than enough.
Steph Cole, 58, a motel owner in Hamilton, said she usually votes for the National Party. He voted Labor for the first time, he said, after seeing how Ms Ardern handled the Christchurch attacks and the pandemic, unifying the country in times of life and death.
“I just think Jacinda Ardern embodies everything a good leader should be,” Ms. Cole said.
Natasha Frost contributed to the reportage from Rotorua, New Zealand. Yan Zhuang contributed to the research from Melbourne, Australia.