New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern won the parliamentary elections on Saturday by a landslide after the country cleared the coronavirus.
After the polls closed and 70 percent of the vote was counted, their center-left Labor party won 49 percent of the vote, enough to comfortably secure a majority of seats in parliament, the country's first majority since 1996.
The center-right National Party has only 27 percent of the vote, a disastrous result for the main opposition party that would be the second worst record in its 84-year history.
Leader Judith Collins admitted defeat and said, "Boy, we knew it was going to be difficult." She said she called Mrs. Ardern and congratulated her on the "excellent result for Labor".
“Although tonight was a very tough night for all of us, three years will have passed in no time. I tell everyone we'll be back, ”she said.
Voters rewarded Ms. Ardern, 40, for her successful handling of Covid-19 The country stopped the spread of the disease with a brief, tough lockdown and border closings, allowing most of normal life to resume with just 1,883 cases and 25 deaths.
The Labor Party will be able to rule alone, but it is advised that it will continue its alliance with the Green Party, which is said to get about eight percent of the vote and eight seats, to create a left-wing "super majority" to reach.
In her second administration, Ms. Ardern will be under great pressure to reduce child poverty and advance her progressive agenda, after battling major reforms over the past three years of the coalition.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern (pictured on Saturday) thanked her supporters at a meetinghouse in Auckland as millions of Kiwis voted in the elections
Jacinda Ardern's partner Clarke Gayford delivers homemade venison to neighbors in Auckland on election night
Jacinda Ardern will be greeted on stage by her partner Clarke Gayford as the Labor Party campaign starts in Auckland in August
New Zealand Parliament 2020: Projections
Parliamentary seats 2020 and vote share forecasts:
Workers' Party: 64 seats, 49% share of the vote
National: 35 seats, 27%
ACTION: 10 seats, 8%
Green: 10 seats, 7.6%
New Zealand first: Zero seats, 2.5%
The Greens and Labor are currently in a three-way alliance with the nationalist New Zealand First party, which is on track to only get two percent of the vote lose all seats and remove Chairman and Secretary of State Winston Peters from Parliament for the first time in 35 years.
The libertarian ACT party is set to win about seven percent of the vote and add nine seats to its current seat to become the fourth largest party and junior opposition party.
Labor vice chairman Kelvin Davis said, "It looks good, but we are not going to count our chickens before they hatch."
Given Ms. Ardern's popularity and her widely acclaimed handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, National Party's vice chairman Gerry Brownlee said, "We always knew it was going to be difficult."
New Zealand has a mixed membership proportionality system in which Parliament is composed of directly elected constituency MPs and also lists MPs whose number is determined by the party's share of the vote.
Polls on Friday gave Ms. Ardern a double-digit lead over National, led by former attorney Judith Collins, nicknamed "The Crusher" for her 2009 plan to wreck boys' cars.
Ms. Ardern's re-election was anything but secure before the pandemic, as it was criticized that her government did not change the country despite an ambitious domestic policy.
However, she has received international praise for handling a number of crises during her tenure, including the Christchurch terrorist attack in March 2019 and the volcanic eruption on White Island in December.
With a majority, Labor would be the first party to rule alone since New Zealand switched to proportional representation in 1996.
The general election was postponed for a month due to the coronavirus. Pictured: Ms. Ardern brings scones to the supporters on Saturday
Bad result for conservatives: National leader Judith Collins is pictured with campaign volunteers on Friday
Voters rewarded Ms. Ardern, 40, for her successful handling of Covid-19. Pictured: her partner Clarke Gayford is handing out food to neighbors on election night
New Zealand Foreign Secretary Winston Peters is kicked out of Parliament when he loses his seat
New Zealand will get a new Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister after the end of the political career of the outsider Winston Peters.
First signs of the New Zealand elections suggest that Mr Peters' New Zealand First party is on track to miss seats in parliament.
After counting 31 percent of the vote, NZ First has only 2.3 percent – well below the five percent threshold required to return MPs.
Winston Peters (pictured last week) is expected to lose his seat in parliament
Mr Peters was first elected as a National Party MP in 1979 before leaving the center-right party to start his own populist force.
It was the 75-year-old who ensured that Jacinda Ardern became Prime Minister in 2017 and, after weeks of government negotiations, decided to support Labor over National.
However, support for his party broke when Kiwis overwhelmingly backed Labor – which is set to win a parliamentary majority.
The urgent support for Ms. Ardern's party means Labor's vice-chairman – Kelvin Davis – becomes deputy prime minister.
The State Department will also be evacuated, probably occupied by former leader Andrew Little or Secretary of Commerce David Parker.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern at Kilbirnie Mosque on March 17, 2019 following the Christchurch terrorist attack
Family: Mrs. Ardern and partner Clarke Gayford pose with their daughter Neve Gayford in Waitangi in February
Ms. Ardern has promised tax hikes for Kiwis who make more than $ 180,000 to fund policies including free apprenticeships to help the economy recover from Covid-19.
The Prime Minister on Friday urged voters to give her a strong mandate and promised a swift recovery from the pandemic.
New Zealand is at its lowest level of restrictions, with no restrictions on gatherings and social distancing, just a proposal allowing fans to return to sports fields.
The election was postponed for a month after a new outbreak surfaced in Auckland but has since been suppressed with no active cases in the community.
"If you want pace and speed, give us a strong mandate," said Ardern in an interview with Radio New Zealand.
Labor versus National: The main policies the two main parties offered in New Zealand's 2020 elections
VAT: New top tax rate of 39 percent for income over $ 180,000 (current top tax rate of 33 percent for income over $ 70,000)
Wage: Raise the minimum wage to $ 20 (currently $ 18.90) and double the sick leave from five to ten days a year
Foreign Affairs: Increase in foreign aid, search for nuclear disarmament and trade agreements with the EU and the UK
Energy: Achieve 100 percent electricity generation from renewable sources by 2030
Social housing: Build 18,000 public houses
Training and employment: Offer free access to apprenticeships for two years
Immigration: Enable a wider range of people to obtain visas and restart the refugee reception program
Community: Make sure schools have gender-neutral bathrooms
Source: Labor Manifesto
VAT: Temporary tax cuts for two years worth up to $ 4,026 for those under $ 90,000. No tax increases
Wage: Postpone shift to minimum wage
Foreign Affairs: Reform of the World Trade Organization, strike free trade agreements with the USA, Great Britain and the EU
Energy: Reverse ban on new oil and gas extraction. Renewable energy scrap targets
Social housing: Allow government renters to buy their homes
Training and employment: Pay companies $ 10,000 for each new full-time employee. Encourage secondary schools to teach financial skills
Immigration: Relax the requirements for technology-related work visas and grant more investor visas
Fault: Reduction of public debt in relation to GDP to below 30 percent by 2030
Normal life: Fans packed into a Wellington stadium this past weekend to watch the All Blacks play against Australia after New Zealand lifted most of its coronavirus restrictions
How do the New Zealand elections work?
New Zealand has a one-house legislature with 120 members.
The system has been MMP (Mixed Member Proportional) since 1996.
This means that the parliament consists of directly elected constituency MPs and also lists MPs nominated by their party.
Each voter casts two votes – one for their local MP and one for the nomination of their preferred party.
A party is entitled to a number of seats based on its share of the total vote.
If a party's stake entitles it to ten seats and its candidates win seven constituencies, it will get three places on the list, thus reaching the required number.
A party that does not win any constituencies must get five percent of the vote to qualify for list places.
In parliament in 2017, 71 seats were occupied by voters, the remaining 49 from rankings.
Parliament seats 2017 and share of votes:
National: 56 seats, 45%
job: 46 seats, 37%
NZ First: 9 seats, 7%
Green: 8 seats, 6%
ACTION: 1 seat, 0.5%
Ms. Ardern defended her record on domestic issues, saying: “If we really want to make sure that what we are doing against child poverty and climate change is not just a three year outbreak, I have to make sure that it is sustainable.
"It took me decades to create, it took me more than three years to fix the problem."
National Party leader Ms. Collins has tried to exploit fears of a left-wing government that levies taxes and is anti-business.
Ms. Collins, 61, argued that she was best able to cope with the financial challenges following the pandemic.
With life back to normal in New Zealand, the borders are still closed, the tourism sector is bleeding and economists predict a prolonged recession.
The economy shrank by 12.2 percent in the second quarter to its worst level since the global economic crisis.
Ms. Ardern has pledged to raise taxes for top earners, while Ms. Collins has promised short-term tax cuts, but has otherwise noted few major policy differences.
"Because of the relative lack of political differences, the debate has been largely about competence – which party and which leader can be trusted to do the job," said Geoffrey Miller, an analyst on the Democracy Project political website.
Business confidence, which hit historic lows in the early months of Ms. Ardern's administration, has improved after her successes.
Nonetheless, Ms. Ardern's economic policy has been criticized and an upcoming summer season with no international tourists will be an important test.
"She won't be able to ride this wave of personal popularity forever," Miller said. "New Zealand has done well with the management of Covid-19, but chapter two of the story begins on Sunday."
Approximately 1.7 million of the 3.5 million registered voters cast early ballots.
New Zealanders voted in two referendums on Saturday on whether recreational cannabis and euthanasia should be legalized.
A vote in favor of legal marijuana would make New Zealand the only third country in the world after Uruguay and Canada to legalize the drug.
The euthanasia measure, which would also enable assisted suicide, would apply to people who have incurable diseases, are likely to die within six months, and suffer “intolerable” suffering.
Countries where euthanasia is possible include the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Canada, Belgium and Colombia.
Lara Greaves, a lecturer in New Zealand Politics at the University of Auckland, said she thinks the marijuana referendum is doomed.
"I think the problem is that we would move from criminalization and a little medical use to full recreational use," she said.
"Probably a period of decriminalization had to take place to get the public on board."
She said large participation from younger voters was needed for the measure to have any hope of passing, but that was far from certain.
Ms. Ardern refused to say how she would vote and said that she would like to leave it to the people to decide.
Challenger: Ardern's rival, National Party leader Judith Collins (center), has tried to instill fears of a tax hike by the left government
Cars drive past a billboard on Friday calling for voters in Christchurch to vote no to euthanasia
A man leaves a polling station in Auckland, New Zealand after voting in the general election
The prime minister admitted smoking marijuana during the campaign when she was younger.
One of the vocal supporters of the marijuana referendum was former Prime Minister Helen Clark.
A position paper from her foundation argues that indigenous Maori have been disproportionately and unduly punished by the legal system for being caught with the drug.
"Cannabis use is a reality in New Zealand, and the results of our current policy approach are damaging our health, worsening social justice and promoting crime," said Clark's Foundation.
A number of communities and religious groups that founded the “Say Nope to Dope” campaign argue against the referendum.
They say that today's marijuana is powerful, addicting, and harmful, and that keeping it illegally prevents people from using it.
If the euthanasia referendum is approved, it becomes law, while if the marijuana referendum is approved, lawmakers must continue to pass the relevant laws.
The results of both referenda will be announced on October 30th.
From the Birth of a Terrorist Attack: Jacinda Ardern's time in power since the government was formed in 2017
Jacinda Ardern with daughter Neve in February
Jacinda Ardern, 40, won the top job after the 2017 election when Labor formed an alliance with two other parties – New Zealand First and the Greens. The following year she gave birth as the second world leader in office.
She became a role model for working mothers around the world, many of whom viewed her as a counterpoint to President Donald Trump. And she was praised for handling last year's attack on two Christchurch mosques when a white supremacist shot and killed 51 Muslim worshipers.
It went quickly to pass new laws banning the deadliest types of semi-automatic weapons.
Ms. Ardern came to power with an ambitious domestic agenda, but failed to introduce a policy such as a capital gains tax and has not reduced child poverty.
At the end of March this year, when only about 100 people tested positive for COVID-19, Ms. Ardern and her health officials put New Zealand on a strict lockdown with the motto "go hard and go early".
She closed the borders and outlined an ambitious goal of eliminating the virus entirely, rather than just trying to control its spread.
Since New Zealand had the advantage of being an isolated island nation, the strategy worked. New Zealand suspended community broadcasts for 102 days before a new cluster was discovered in Auckland in August.
Ms. Ardern quickly imposed a second ban in Auckland and the new outbreak went away. The only new cases found recently were of returning travelers who are in quarantine.
The Auckland outbreak also caused Ardern to postpone the election for a month and helped increase voter turnout.
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