World News – AU – COVID dominates New Zealand election despite country being virus free


Nothing summed up New Zealand politics better than the final discussions of the fourth election campaign debate on Thursday night

The Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition have been invited by debate moderator Jessica Mutch McKay to say something to each other they had not yet had a chance to say

PM NZ Jacinda Ardern faces challenger Judith Collins at the polls on October 17Credit: Getty Images

Jacinda Ardern, high in the polls and widely expected to win a second term on Saturday, turned to her opponent and noted that she had never had the chance to thank Judith Collins for the speech she she delivered after March 15, 2019, when 51 years of people died in the Christchurch massacre « In the House, she gave an incredibly sincere and genuine speech on the need for us to carry out gun law reform fire I found it particularly powerful, ”said Ardern

Collins responded by congratulating Ardern: « Anyone who takes on the post of Prime Minister has to put all their heart and soul into it and Jacinda has done it »

It wasn’t all jokes that clearly pissed off Ardern had earlier in the debate blasted Collins for claiming that if re-elected the PM would implement New Zealand Greens’ tax policy, despite his categorical denials

« It’s been happening for two weeks now It’s a desperate political strategy to try to get votes and it’s wrong We said we would campaign on the facts and play straight out, » Ardern said

But in an age when people are increasingly inclined to choose their facts based on their opinions, urged by populist leaders such as US Donald Trump and Brazilian Jair Bolsonaro, the exchange of praise between the two leaders stood out

Ardern has been celebrated as a kind of anti-Trump, a sentiment born out of the Prime Minister’s statement that « I want our nation not to be completely polarized and in fact compared to other countries we are making a very good job on this « 

While New Zealand has (at least for now) largely cracked down on the divisive politics entrenched in democracies around the world, there are still tensions at the heart of the 2020 election campaign.

And as the country seeks to revive its economy in a world plagued by COVID, this is an election with enormous consequences

Janine Hayward, professor of politics at the University of Otago, notes that Ardern’s critics campaigned on his 2017 pledge to lead a transformational government « and for them it would be difficult to describe what they accomplished it that way « and that premier is more style than substance

Collins, during the debate, accused Ardern of a litany of « broken promises » during his three years as a coalition government with the center-left NZ Greens and the first New Zealand nationalist parties, notably on signing policies to reduce child poverty, build the railway light in Auckland and under the KiwiBuild program to build 100,000 new houses over 10 years

But as Hayward notes, « Public confidence here in institutions and officials is extremely high and New Zealand public confidence in the government’s COVID response is phenomenally high »

« There is some forgiveness [for policies Ardern did not implement] and 2017 looks like a long time ago I think people are willing to suspend regular judgments on governments because of of COVID

« The Labor Party also has answers to these criticisms, that you cannot solve these problems in one word »

New Zealanders will also vote in two referendums on Saturday – one on legalizing assisted dying, the other on legalizing recreational use of cannabis

Ardern, Collins and former prime ministers John Key and Helen Clark support a ‘yes’ to assisted dying, polls suggest small majority of Kiwis will support change

But cannabis law polls suggest she’s heading for narrow defeat Collins has made it clear she opposes it (although she supports already legal medicinal marijuana) and Ardern won’t say how she will vote on the question

Richard Shaw, a professor of politics at Massey University, says Collins accurately describes Ardern as breaking his political promises, while waiting lists in hospitals and waiting lists for social housing have also increased

But Ardern’s handling of the Christchurch Massacre, White Island Volcano eruption and pandemic has been assured and competent, and « there is an understanding of the constraints that multiple coalitions place on you »

« There is debate in some sections of the political commentary about the gap between his popularity and his actual performance – but I’m not sure voters are paying attention, » Shaw says

« I think Judith Collins is just trying to keep her base, she is trying to stop a rout »

Ardern was a cautious leader in her first term, says Shaw, despite her idealistic promise to transform politics, and this campaign has been less about political debate than leadership.

« Politics did not dominate as you would usually see Ardern decided to call this a COVID election and she succeeded, people remained concerned about keeping COVID out All the talk of Scott Morrison on an airlift? Nobody here wants anyone to come from anywhere until we can be sure they don’t have [the virus] « 

New Zealand, after a strict eight-week lockdown at the start of the pandemic, became a COVID-19-free country in May

Collins, a conservative leader and seasoned politician who only took over the Nationals on July 14, has left nothing on the table during the campaign, but an Ardern victory looks increasingly likely

A relatively small outbreak of COVID-19 in Auckland in August resulted in a partial lockdown of the country, delaying elections by a month until October 17 However, the outbreak was brought under control within weeks, the country returned to COVID-free status (except for cases among returning travelers) and Ardern was rewarded in the polls.

The latest Colmar Brunton poll, released Thursday night, had Labor over 46 percent, the national over 31 percent, the Greens over 8 percent, New Zealand first over 3 percent and the central ACT duty on 8 percent hundred

Hayward says the election campaign was a « COVID campaign, but as we are not affected at this time, we are not talking about it directly »

« What COVID means to us here right now are debates over health and economic policy and whether a Labor government or a national government is the best alternative to lead us » , she said

And while National has traditionally been seen as the best government for the economy – just as the Coalition has been in Australia – this is no longer necessarily true in the minds of voters, according to Hayward

In practice, these poll numbers mean that in New Zealand’s Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) system, in which voters tick a box for a candidate from the local electorate and also tick a separate box for the party they support, Ardern is likely to be returned to government in coalition with the Greens, with New Zealand First risking to completely miss out (which party leader Winston Peters strongly contests) and National and ACT on the bench of the opposition

Jennifer Curtin, professor of politics at the University of Auckland, suggests that « it is unlikely to be a center-right coalition » forming a government after the polls closed on Saturday night in 7pm and the vote count, with National and ACT probably able to hit around 40%

Around 34 million people have the right to vote in elections and already more than a million have voted

But don’t expect a quick result in Saturday night’s tally – or for Labor to win an overwhelming majority, necessarily

« I think the Labor Party is unlikely to reach 50 percent, » says Curtin, « and it would also be wise, even if the Labor Party can govern alone, to work with the Greens. the Greens would be a useful boost to force them to move further to the left « 

Curtin claims that while Labor may have surpassed some of its most ambitious campaign promises in 2017, the party has held on to issues such as abortion law reform, law changes on sex crimes, dedicating its zero carbon pollution plan in law and beginning to restore the country’s relations with its indigenous Maori people

There are 72 electorate seats and 48 party list seats in parliament and Shaw says up to 30% of Kiwis will vote tactically – by checking the box for a local member of National, for example, but giving their party vote to Ardern as an endorsement of his government

To qualify for a percentage of party list seats, a party must win 5% of the national vote or at least one electorate seat The Greens, in general, do not win a seat in the electorate, but if they win around 8% of the vote – as polls predict – that should entitle them to around 10 seats, as it does with the center-right ACT

Taken as a whole, the hybrid electoral system lends itself to coalition governments – in fact, no party has held a majority since its introduction in 1996 – and that’s seen as the most likely outcome this time around – this

The two leaders made their concerns over tactical voting clear in a final speech to voters, asking New Zealanders to give them their vote both in the electorate and on the party list – a clear sign lest the votes spill over to smaller parties

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James Massola is Southeast Asia Correspondent based in Jakarta Previously was Chief Political Correspondent, based in Canberra He was a three-time Walkley and Quills finalist, won a Kennedy Award for Foreign Correspondent exceptional and is the author of The Great Cave Rescue

Jacinda Ardern, Judith Collins, New Zealand General Election 2020

News from the world – AU – COVID dominates New Zealand elections despite country being virus free



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