Ardern’s landslide victory

Labour forms New Zealand’s 53rd Parliament, in what many are calling a complete landslide

Photo by Stephen Trinder on Flickr.

— 3 minute read — by Maggie Gannon

On 17th October, New Zealand saw its 53rd Parliament formed as a result of a landslide victory for Labour – a contrast to New Zealand’s primarily coalition-based political system. Labour’s Jacinda Ardern was up against Judith Collins of the National Party, but Collins conceded early defeat within the morning as Labour looked set to govern alone.

Opinion poll predictions confirmed many people’s previous assumptions. This was an election that looked set to go Ardern, even though it was postponed by a month or so due to new coronavirus outbreaks in a few New Zealand communities, especially given the positive response she has received over her first term – dealing with a terrorist attack, a natural disaster and a global pandemic.

New Zealand elections operate via an MMP system, whereby an election takes place every three years, and the public are asked to vote twice – once for their preferred party and once for their constituency MP. A singular party must receive more than 5 percent of the party vote or win an electorate/constituency seat in order to enter parliament, with a handful of seats reserved for Maori candidates. In 2017, New Zealand’s National Party took the most seats, however, they were not able to form a government, leading Labour to enter into a coalition with the Greens and New Zealand First (a right-leaning, socially conservative party). It was this coalition that led many to criticise some of Ardern’s efforts within her first term. Many promises made in her manifesto regarding child poverty were obstructed, meaning Labour did fail in some respects to live up to their rhetoric. 

This time around, Labour’s election campaign successfully captured and focused on the calm handling of a pandemic that has defined 2020, rather than concentrating on smaller manifesto details from the previous election. This ultimately led to a 49.1 percent victory, described as “a historical shift” by Bryce Edwards (political commentator). Much of this victory has come as a result of the plaudits Ardern received for her compassionate handling of the Christchurch mosques attack. In addition to this, she became the second world leader to give birth whilst in office – perhaps painting a different picture of what world leadership should look like. An overwhelming majority believe Ardern is a fundamentally good person who has shown she can be an assured leader, especially during a global crisis. With New Zealand’s coronavirus death toll below 30 people, many have viewed her handling as truly remarkable.

When looking to the future, some of Ardern’s next moves will involve allowing terminally ill patients the right to request assisted death (euthanasia) and legalising recreational cannabis use.  The referendums on these matters are binding votes meaning that if they pass 50 percent, they will become law.  However, New Zealand is also heading into a recession for the first time in 11 years. House prices, child poverty, homelessness, and unemployment rates are all steadily on the rise. Perhaps this majority will further Labour’s more ambitious approaches towards climate change and tackling the social issues presented above. As New Zealand heads back to normality and government policies move away from the pandemic, it will be interesting to see how this new Parliament tackles the problems it faces.