30 October 2020
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Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern won a landslide victory in New Zealand’s general election on Saturday, leveraging success battling Covid-19 into an unprecedented majority she said gave her a mandate for progressive reform.

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Ardern’s centre-left Labour Party took 64 seats in the
120-member parliament with 49 percent of the vote, after the youthful and
charismatic leader steered the nation through the upheaval wrought by the
global pandemic.

“Thank you to the many people who gave us their vote,
who trusted us to continue leading New Zealand’s recovery,” the
40-year-old told cheering supporters.

Ardern had dubbed the vote “the Covid election”
and campaigned on her government’s success in eliminating community
transmission of the virus, which has caused just 25 deaths in a population of
five million.

The pandemic is one of a string of emergencies that tested
Ardern’s leadership during a torrid first term, after she rode to an unexpected
victory in 2017 polls on the back of a wave of support dubbed
“Jacinda-mania”.

She displayed both empathy and decisive action on gun
control after a white supremacist gunman killed 51 Muslim worshippers in the
Christchurch mosques attack last year.

Ardern again found herself comforting a shocked nation when
a volcanic eruption at White Island, also known as Whakaari, killed 21 people
and left dozens more with horrific burns.

“There’s no doubt the strong, great leadership we’ve
had from Jacinda Ardern has been a massive factor in all this,” Labour Party
president Claire Szabo said of her party’s win on broadcaster TVNZ.

Saturday’s vote marked the first time any leader won an
absolute majority since New Zealand adopted a proportional
voting system in 1996 and was the party’s strongest showing since World War
II.

Opposition leader Judith Collins conceded an
“outstanding result” for Labour and congratulated Ardern on her win.

“Boy, we knew it was going to be a tough
campaign,” said Collins, whose conservative National Party is expected to
take around 35 seats after its worst result in nearly 20 years.

‘Tomorrow we start!’

Ardern was criticised during her first term for failing to
deliver on some key promises such as improving housing affordability,
protecting the environment and reducing child poverty.

But she said the election had set her up for an active
second term.

“We have the mandate to accelerate our response and our
recovery — and tomorrow we start!” she said, flagging increased state
housing, more renewable energy and other infrastructure investment.

Greens co-leader Marama Davidson, whose party governed
in coalition with Labour during the first term, said the vote “show how
much New Zealanders want a strong, truly progressive
government.”

About 3.5 million people were registered to vote, with well
over half casting their ballots early — a much higher figure than previous
elections.

The vote was originally set for September 19 but was delayed
by a virus outbreak in Auckland that has now been contained.

Collins, who took over the National Party in July after a
period of turmoil when the party had three leaders in three months, said the
false start had cost her campaign momentum.

Her pitch for the top job had focused on the spectre of the
Greens forcing Ardern to adopt a wealth tax aimed at the nation’s aspirational
middle class.

The conservative leader, known as “Crusher” for
her hardline policies when police minister in a previous government, has vowed
to stay on as leader regardless of the result.

Voters also cast ballots in two referendums, to legalise
recreational cannabis and euthanasia, although the results of those votes will
not be known until October 30.

Abdul Gh Lone

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