They call them the COVID-19 elections, with stability the order of the day. But the truth is that New Zealanders are experiencing the strangest general elections in their history. In a highly unusual year, a majority of the population only wants them to pass at once to regain something close to normalcy.
Lessons from the Antipodes: New Zealand Controls Coronavirus Recurrence with Its ‘Hard and Fast’ Strategy
With a month late due to a coronavirus outbreak in Auckland, the country’s largest city, New Zealanders finally go to the polls this Saturday. It will not be a particularly lively day: more than a million voters, a record figure, you have already voted in advance in a country where five million people live.
The low enthusiasm and the dullness of the environment have to do with COVID-19 and the overwhelming success of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in the fight against the pandemic. Those who have employment problems and the uncertainty of the elections are a pothole to recover their lives as soon as possible.
Advantage in surveys
Opinion polls have been giving the Labor Party a wide advantage over the National Party for months. Ardern’s formation leads them with 46% voting intention, 15 points ahead of their rival. Ardern is also the first in polls asking for the favorite prime minister.
After going through three leaders in six months, the National Party is reeling. Not even the indomitable Judith Collinsaka ‘Crusher’ Collins manages to arouse enthusiasm and takes one wrong step after another. Like when she suggested that the problem of people with obesity had to do with a lack of individual responsibility, or when she was accused of placing supporters in places that she would later visit during her walk with the cameras.
“I am very clear that I am not going to be able to overtake Jacinda Ardern using her weapons,” Collins said. “Sometimes I have an irreverent and wicked sense of humor that gets me into trouble from time to time. Actually, it often gets me into trouble.”
Ardern has been optimistic throughout. Although political analysts criticize her party for vagueness in the message, for failing to comply with a clear mandate and for lack of definition in a post-COVID-19 recovery plan, the prime minister’s personal popularity has caused Labor to shrink. hold at all-time highs in polls. Leading the government during a series of major disasters is Ardern’s most compelling argument.
According to Jennifer Lees-Marshment, an expert on elections and political communication at the University of Auckland, this is “a very, very strange, very unique election.” “They happen in the middle of a global crisis, so it is very difficult for public opinion and politicians to focus on anything else.” The elections will be accompanied by two referendums on the legalization of recreational marijuana and euthanasia.
Politics of Kindness in Times of Uncertainty
When New Zealand closed the border in mid-March and went into lockdown shortly after – with just a hundred COVID-19 cases – Ardern urged New Zealanders to “be nice” to each other. “Watch out for your neighbors,” he said. “Call your grandmothers.”
The country has registered fewer than 2,000 people infected with COVID-19 and 25 deaths. The World Health Organization (WHO), among others, has praised New Zealand for its success in managing the virus. With his calm leadership style, Ardern has won the sympathy of even National Party voters.
According to political analysts, in times of uncertainty the voter clings to the status quo And right now, Ardern’s policies of compassion and kindness are the refuge New Zealanders seek.
“The elections are going to come down to trust, and that, of course, favors the current prime minister,” says Carl Ebbers, a small businessman from Auckland. “He has done very well with all these emergencies that we have had.”
According to commentators, the last two years of politics in New Zealand seem to have been forgotten and the last nine months are the only ones that matter to voters.
Collins has claimed “not to believe the polls” and has accused Ardern of breaking his promises and of “lip service.” He has also said that after the global pandemic, the prime minister only proposed to voters “love and hugs”, while a government led by her would focus on offering “hope and work” with a more consistent economic response.
But several analysts agree that Labor is approaching a second term only thanks to Ardern’s worldwide fame. With Collins’ constant missteps, the National Party’s chances of ruling are shrinking every day.
The big mistakes of the Labor Party seem to have faded to the public eye, such as the failure of the KiwiBuild project to build 100,000 homes in 10 years, the inability to apply a capital gains tax or the increasing levels of social exclusion. The National Party has highlighted all these criticisms, but it has not had much echo.
Will Ardern achieve an absolute majority?
Many pundits take it for granted that Labor and Ardern will win on October 17 but wonder whether or not they will be able to achieve the absolute majority that allows them to govern alone, something that the design of the New Zealand electoral system aims to avoid.
“It’s a really unusual election, in a just weird context,” says political commentator Morgan Godfery. “I really want it to end. I’m not exactly prolaborist, but I want you to repeat for the simple reason that you are the best suited to lead the country during a global pandemic.”
Labor can be accused of getting carried away; and the national ones, of disunity, but these 2020 elections have much less to do with politics than those of any other moment in history.
Before new hospitals, taxes on wealth or cleaner rivers, New Zealanders need to feel safe in a time of global uncertainty. Having a leader nominated twice for the Nobel Peace Prize is clearly reassuring.
“I don’t think the voter who goes from National to Labor does it with science in mind [sobre COVID-19]”Says Ben Thomas, a public relations consultant who worked for a National Party government. “They do it because they think Jacinda is making good decisions and taking care of us.”
Translated by Francisco de Zárate