NZ Election 2020: Global media calls win for Jacinda Ardern, warns her popularity 'will be tested'

NZ Election 2020: Global media calls win for Jacinda Ardern, warns her popularity 'will be tested'
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Several global media outlets have called an election win for Jacinda Ardern, but have also warned her "relatively recent" popularity "will be tested" in the COVID-19 economic rebuild.

The Washington Post reported on Monday that the Labour leader is "on course to comfortably win" a second term, citing the lead over National in the most recent poll.

"Yet her record is more complicated than her reputation suggests, and the surge in her domestic popularity is a relatively recent phenomenon that will be tested amid a deep recession and against circumstances unprecedented in living memory," it wrote.

New Zealand political analyst Josh Van Veen told the outlet it appeared Ardern was on course to be a one-term Prime Minister, but COVID-19 "turned everyone's world upside down".

The article says while crisis has defined Ardern's three years as Prime Minister - mentioning the Christchurch mosque attacks, the Whakaari White Island eruption and the pandemic - she has "won plaudits for her actions" and has led a COVID-19 response "widely hailed as among the world's most effective".

But it also mentioned her progress "has been limited" in other areas, such as addressing the housing shortage and child poverty.

"Labour pledged to build 100,000 houses in a decade but dropped the target last year, having built 258 up to that point. Income inequality and levels of material hardship for children are little changed, official data show," it said, referencing the since-scrapped KiwiBuild.

"Meanwhile, defeating the virus has come at great cost: New Zealand's economy shrank by 12.2 percent in the second quarter, nearly double the contraction in neighbouring Australia."

One New Zealand farmer the outlet spoke to, who said he won't vote for Labour, felt National was better placed to fight the recession.

'Came into office with lofty plans'

The Economist also says Ardern is on track for a "big victory" in the election, and that regardless of whether Labour enters a coalition or governs alone, the party will be in a "far stronger parliamentary position" that it is now.

But, similarly to The Washington Post, it also criticises her lack of action in areas she pledged to address.

"She came into office with lofty plans to 'build a fairer, better New Zealand' by reducing child poverty, ending homelessness and erecting 100,000 cheap houses - none of which she has managed to do," it wrote.

It adds if the election goes in her favour, Ardern would have the opportunity to pursue a "more radical agenda", even though it believes Labour's policies are "far less ambitious" than in the 2017 election.

"The most contentious is a plan to increase income taxes. It applies only to people earning more than NZ$180,000 - the top 2 percent - and even then at a rate of 39 percent, much lower than in many rich countries," it said.

"This points to a potential conundrum. Ms Ardern positioned herself as a transforming leader. But to win enough seats to bring about sweeping change, she must secure votes from centrists who are wary of grandiose ideas. The more successful she becomes, the less radical she is likely to be."

Judith Collins and Jacinda Ardern.
Judith Collins and Jacinda Ardern. Photo credit: Newshub

Ardern to 'win big'

A third international outlet to call an election win for Ardern is Time magazine, and it says Labour is on track to "win big".

Like The Washington Post and The Economist, it also mentions Ardern was on track to lose the election according to polls from late last year.

"But Ardern's deft handling of COVID-19 has increased her popularity. An April poll showed public support for Ardern and her party soaring while the country was under strict lockdown," it said.

"The Labour Party has since reached 55 percent approval, while the opposition National Party has dropped to 29 percent. Ardern's personal approval rating has reached 65 percent, a near record."

Time also draws on Ardern's "ambivalent" image in New Zealand, with criticisms she failed to deliver on housing and child poverty promises. One New Zealand businessperson the magazine spoke to said her first term was a "wasted opportunity to implement serious policy reforms".

It adds the "big question" for Labour is just how well it will do at the election and whether it will win an outright majority or not.

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