Jacinda Ardern’s quiet competence triumphs in New Zealand

Jacinda Ardern’s quiet competence triumphs in New Zealand

“TONIGHT’S RESULT has been strong,” said Jacinda Ardern, with the kind of understatement of which only a New Zealander is capable. The prime minister had just secured a second three-year term in government for Labour in a general election on October 17th with 49% of the vote—the best result for any party since 1951. This gives Ms Ardern 64 seats in New Zealand’s 120-seat, single-chamber parliament, compared with 35 for the main opposition, the National Party. It is the first time any party has been in a position to govern alone since New Zealand adopted a system of proportional representation in 1996.

There is barely a corner of the country that has not been painted Labour’s signature red. New Zealanders choose both a party and an MP when they vote. Labour topped the party vote in 68 of the 72 constituencies. It prevailed in rich urban areas and conservative farming districts. It toppled old political stalwarts. National’s deputy leader, Gerry Brownlee, lost a seat that he has held for a quarter of a century. New Zealand First, a populist party with which Labour has been governing in coalition for the past three years, has been booted from parliament altogether.

This walkover has much more to do with the pulling power of the prime minister than the ideas of her party. In the three years since she came to power she has steered the country of 5m through its worst terrorist attack, a fatal volcanic eruption and the coronavirus pandemic. She has been praised for uniting Kiwis when other countries are growing more divided. Her strict response to the coronavirus succeeded in stamping out local transmission (albeit with a brief relapse), allowing life to return to normal in New Zealand. Even her staunchest opponents admit that she has a gracious, straightforward way of communicating.