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New Zealand prime minister wins second term

New Zealand prime minister wins second term
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New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Saturday won a second term in a sweeping victory fueled in part by her internationally-lauded handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

With over 99 percent of the votes tallied, Ardern’s Labour Party surged with 49 percent of the vote, setting it up for its most significant victory since the current parliamentary system was introduced in 1996. Meanwhile, the center-right Nationalist Party, Labour’s main opposition, looks likely to suffer its worst defeat since 2002 with just shy of 27 percent of the vote. 

“Tonight, New Zealand has shown the Labour Party its greatest support in at least 50 years,” Ardern told a raucous crowd in a victory speech Saturday night local time. “I can promise you, we will be a party that governs for every New Zealander.”

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New Zealand operates under a coalition system, and no party has ever won a majority of votes since 1996. But Labor came close with a major uptick from 37 percent showing in the last election in 2017. Labour’s coalition partner, the Green Party, is sitting at 7.6 percent, also up from 6.3 percent three years ago. However, the right-wing ACT Party jumped to 8 percent, up from 0.5 percent. 

“Tonight’s results have been strong, and it is clear that Labour will lead the government for the next three years,” Ardern said.

Ardern’s victory is likely fueled by her aggressive tackling of the pandemic under the mantra “go hard and go early.” The prime minister shut down New Zealand early this year when it had just over 100 cases, and to date the country has tallied under 2,000 total cases and just 25 deaths, a far cry from skyrocketing totals in other developed nations, including the U.S. Though the pandemic led to a sharp economic decline, support for Ardern sharply rose throughout the crisis.

She also garnered international praise for her response to the 2019 terrorist attack at two Christchurch mosques that killed 51 people, with supporters noting her sensitivity to the Muslim community and her decisiveness in banning all military-style semi-automatic weapons.

In a sign of enthusiasm heading into the election, 2 million people, or roughly 57 percent of all registered voters in New Zealand, had voted early as of Friday. 

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“This has not been an ordinary election, and it’s not an ordinary time. It’s been full of uncertainty and anxiety, and we set out to be an antidote to that. As a nation we needed a plan for recovery, and so that is what we created," Ardern said. "We needed an ongoing health response to the global pandemic to keep people safe, so that is what we have done. And we needed a team focused absolutely and entirely on New Zealand, and Labour absolutely is."

Ardern previewed her second term in her Saturday speech, casting it as an effort to continue grappling with the coronavirus and helping guide New Zealand from the pandemic’s harsh economic fallout. 

“Over the next three years, there is much work to do. We will build back better from the COVID crisis. Better, stronger, with an answer to the many challenges New Zealand already faced. This is our opportunity to build an economy that works for everyone, to keep creating decent jobs, to upscale and train our people, to protect our environment and address our climate challenges. To take on poverty and inequality,” she said. “After this result, we have the mandate to accelerate our response and our economy, and tomorrow we start.”