New Zealand’s Ardern appears headed for big win, 2nd term

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND (AP) — Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern appeared headed for a landslide win and a second term in office yesterday during early vote counting in New Zealand’s election.

With about one-third of votes counted, Ardern’s liberal Labour Party had nearly double the amount of votes than its main challenger, the Conservative National Party.

One question will be whether Labour can win an outright majority in Parliament, something that hasn’t happened since New Zealand implemented a proportional voting system 24 years ago. Typically, parties must form alliances to govern, but this time there’s a chance Ardern and Labour will be able to go it alone.

A record number of voters cast early ballots in the two weeks leading up to the election. On the campaign trail, Ardern has been greeted like a rock star by people who have crammed into malls and spilled onto streets to cheer her on and get selfies with her.

Her popularity soared earlier this year after she led a successful effort to stamp out the coronavirus. There is currently no community spread of the virus in the nation of five million and people are no longer required to wear masks or social distance.

Ardern, 40, won the top job after the 2017 election when Labour formed an alliance with two other parties. The following year, she became only the second world leader to give birth while in office.

She became a role model for working mothers around the world, many of whom saw her as a counterpoint to United States (US) President Donald Trump. And she was praised for her handling of last year’s attack on two Christchurch mosques, when a white supremacist gunned down 51 Muslim worshippers. She moved quickly to pass new laws banning the deadliest types of semi-automatic weapons.

In late March this year, when only about 100 people had tested positive for the coronavirus, Ardern and her health officials put New Zealand into a strict lockdown with a motto of “Go hard and go early”. She shut the borders and outlined an ambitious goal of eliminating the virus entirely rather than just trying to control its spread.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern stands with her electorate workers at an event in Auckland, New Zealand. PHOTO: AP