GZERO Media logo

Why is Jacinda Ardern cruising to reelection in New Zealand?

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern visits a NZ Labour Party South Auckland Get Out The Vote event on October 3, 2020

In recent months, New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has emerged as a global sensation, gracing the covers of Vogue and TIME and giving rise to a series of tweets about how great it would be to relocate to New Zealand.

And she's not just popular abroad. As New Zealanders head to the polls this week, her ruling Labour party has a double-digit lead. Ardern, the country's youngest living head of state, is all but assured to win a second term.

But it hasn't all been smooth sailing for Ardern in recent years. A closer look shows a society facing a number of serious challenges. So what accounts for Ardern's surging popularity? Why is she cruising to reelection?

Not all rosy. Before Ardern's effective handling of the pandemic boosted Labour's poll numbers, some analysts mused that Ardern, a darling-of the center- left, might be booted out of office after just one term.

That's because her government had failed to follow through on several key policy goals, including her flagship housing program, "KiwiBuild," intended to tackle the country's growing homelessness crisis. But after missing every single construction deadline, Ardern was forced to walk back her commitment, calling the plan "overly ambitious."

It was a massive setback for a prime minister who has sought to craft an image as a warrior for lower-income New Zealanders.

In the meantime, New Zealand's housing crisis has only gotten worse: Auckland, the most populous city, is one of the most expensive cities in the world to own a home, while a recent survey ranked all of New Zealand's major cities as "severely unaffordable."

Despite Ardern's efforts to tackle these bread and butter issues, the homelessness crisis has mostly deepened under her watch, while child poverty remains a persistent issue.

So why is Ardern so popular? During Ardern's relatively short time at the helm, New Zealand has faced a series of rare crises, including a rampage on two Christchurch mosques by a white supremacist that killed more than 50 people, as well as a string of natural disasters.

Now with the coronavirus onslaught, New Zealand's approach, which Ardern described as "go hard, go early," has been extremely effective at squashing the curve. (It included limits on domestic travel and early closures of school and non-essential businesses.) As a result, New Zealand's fatality rate is 0.5 per 100,000 population, compared with 66 in the US, and 4 in neighboring Australia.

Even beyond the success of her pandemic policies, Ardern has been widely praised for her compassionate and forthright leadership style. "There's a high level of trust and confidence in her [Ardern] because of that empathy," New Zealand's former prime minister Helen Clark recently told the Atlantic. This resonates beyond what might be considered her natural support base of social progressives.

The challenges ahead. While the victory of the Labour party is virtually assured at this point, New Zealand's incoming government will still face its share of significant challenges.

Economic recovery. New Zealand is currently suffering its worst recession since the 1980s. Between April and June alone, GDP shrank by more than 12 percent, largely because of lost income for the tourism industry, which generates $73.8 million (USD) per day. Steering the economic recovery while still waiting for a vaccine to be approved and distributed will not be an easy task.

China, China, China. Managing the relationship with Beijing has proven difficult for New Zealand's government in recent years. Ardern, a progressive and vocal human rights advocate, has sought to find a balance between condemning China (back in July, Wellington announced that it was suspending its extradition treaty with Hong Kong because of Beijing's draconian national security law) without ruining relations with a country that is New Zealand's top trading partner.

Still, Ardern has faced accusations of cowering in the face of Beijing's aggression, including on human rights issues, as well as in response to claims that China has meddled in New Zealand's own domestic affairs.

Looking ahead: Ardern's strong leadership during the pandemic has paved the way for her to win a second term. But will she be able to make progress on issues that have so far eluded her, while also addressing a once-in-a-lifetime economic crisis?

Khant Thaw Htoo is a young engineer who works in Eni's Sakura Tower office in the heart of Yangon. As an HSE engineer, he monitors the safety and environmental impact of onshore and offshore operations. He also looks out for his parents' well-being, in keeping with Myanmar's traditions.

Learn more about Khant in the final episode of the Faces of Eni series, which focuses on Eni's employees around the world.

On his first day as president, Joe Biden signed a remarkable series of executive orders. Boom! The US rejoins the Paris Climate Accord. Bang! The United States rejoins the World Health Organization. Pow! No more ban on immigration from many Muslim-majority countries. Biden's press secretary reminded reporters later in the day that all these orders merely begin complex processes that take time, but the impact is still dramatic.

If you lead a country allied with the US, or you're simply hoping for some specific commitment or clear and credible statement of purpose from the US government, you might feel a little dizzy today. The sight of an American president (Barack Obama) signing his name, of the next president (Donald Trump) erasing that name from the same legislation/bill, and then the following president (Biden) signing it back into law again will raise deep concerns over the long-term reliability of the world's still-most-powerful nation.

More Show less

"There needs to be a dramatic and deep reduction in the amount of debt on the poorest countries. That's clear." As the world's poorest nations struggle to recover from a devastating pandemic, World Bank President David Malpass argues that freeing them of much of their debt will be key. His conversation with Ian Bremmer is part of the latest episode of GZERO World.

Listen: Renowned tech journalist Kara Swisher has no qualms about saying that social media companies bear responsibility for the January 6th pro-Trump riots at the Capitol and will likely be complicit in the civil unrest that may continue well into Biden's presidency. It's no surprise, she argues, that the online rage that platforms like Facebook and Twitter intentionally foment translated into real-life violence. But if Silicon Valley's current role in our national discourse is untenable, how can the US government rein it in? That, it turns out, is a bit more complicated. Swisher joins Ian Bremmer on our podcast.

Ian Bremmer discusses the World In (more than) 60 Seconds:

Biden's first scheduled call with a world leader will be with Canada's Justin Trudeau. What's going on with the Keystone Pipeline?

Well, Biden said that that's it. Executive order, one of the first is that he will stop any construction or development of the Keystone Pipeline. This is of course an oil pipeline that would allow further oil sands oil to come to the United States. The infrastructure is significantly overstretched, it's led to backlogs, inefficiency, accidents, all the rest, but it also facilitates more energy development and keeps prices comparatively down if you get it done. So, there are lots of reasons why the energy sector in Canada wants it. Having said all of that, Trudeau, even though he's been a supporter of Keystone XL, let's keep in mind that he did not win support in Alberta, which is where the big energy patch in Canada is located. This is a real problem for the government of Alberta, Canada is a very decentralized federal government, even more so than the United States. The premier of Alberta is immensely unhappy with Biden right now, they've taken a $1.5 billion equity stake in the project. I expect there will actually be litigation against the United States by the government of Alberta. But Trudeau is quite happy with Biden, his relationship was Trump was always walking on eggshells. The USMCA in negotiations ultimately successful but were very challenging for the Canadians, so too with the way Trump engaged in relations on China. All of this, the fact that Trump left the nuclear agreement with Iran, the Paris Climate Accords, WHO, all of that is stuff that Trudeau strongly opposed. He's going to be much more comfortable with this relationship. He's delighted that the first call from Biden is to him. And it certainly creates a level of normalcy in the US-Canada relationship that is very much appreciated by our neighbors to the North.

More Show less
The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.


Subscribe to GZERO Media's Newsletter: Signal