By Saturday night it was official: New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern had been reelected as the nation’s leader for another three years.
Ardern’s centre-left Labour Party won by a landslide in New Zealand’s general election at the weekend, securing 49 percent of the vote. It is the party’s best result in 50 years, giving them 64 of Parliament’s 120 seats, and allows the hugely popular Prime Minister to form the nation’s first single-party government since 1993.
More broadly, the election results also solidify New Zealand’s claim to the title of one of the most progressive nations in the world, and give some cause for hope in a less-than-hopeful period for Western democracy.
Here are some key positive takeaways.
New Zealand now has the queerest Parliament in the world
New Zealand has overtaken the United Kingdom as having the world’s queerest parliament, with almost 10 percent of sitting members openly identifying as LGBTQ.
Newshub reports that there will likely be four more LGBTQ members in New Zealand’s 120-seat Parliament following Saturday’s results, bringing the total number to 11—or 9.6 percent of the Parliament. By comparison, the UK currently has 45 openly gay members in the 650-member House of Commons, or seven percent.
Seven of New Zealand’s LGBTQ representatives are in Labour and four are in the Greens, with each party increasing by two since the last election. The Greens could still potentially lose two LGBTQ members as a result of special votes—which include postal votes, votes made overseas and votes by certain prisoners, all of which can be returned and counted as late as 10 days after the election. Even if that happens, though, New Zealand will maintain the world record at 7.5 percent LGBTQ representation.
Competence against COVID is rewarded at the polls
New Zealand has been the envy of the world throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, becoming one of the few countries to achieve complete—albeit temporary—elimination of the virus and recording one of the world’s lowest death tolls. While conservative critics have occasionally challenged Ardern’s hardline approach to coronavirus outbreaks, Saturday’s runaway election results indicate that the Prime Minister has never been more popular.
“It’s an historic … result, and that is down to one thing: COVID-19,” Jack Vowles, Professor of Political Science at Te Herenga Waka/Victoria University of Wellington, wrote for The Conversation. “Labour and Ardern made the right calls. Comparative analysis of COVID responses internationally shows it’s not just a matter of what you do, it’s a matter of whether you do it soon enough. Labour did that and have been rewarded electorally.”
Compare this to the UK, where Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s popularity is sliding amid more than 725,000 coronavirus cases and 43,000 deaths, or the United States, where President Donald Trump’s approval rating has steadily declined thanks to his handling of the pandemic.
It’s difficult to say for sure whether this will pan out in a similar way at the US elections next month, and potentially scuttle Trump’s chances of retaining the Presidency—but it seems reasonable to intuit from Ardern’s reelection that those leaders who have proven more capable at managing the virus get more popular, while leaders who flounder get less.
Stability in an age of populism
Ardern’s landslide election win is also exceptional when compared to those other democratic nations, like the UK and the US, where populist figures have tended to rise to the top of the political pile. While politicians in these countries have increasingly benefitted from stoking division, spreading discontent and in some cases promoting misinformation and conspiracy theories, New Zealand’s voters punished a number of political hopefuls who were pursuing populist agendas.
Analysts have credited New Zealanders’ prevailing contentment with their government as a major reason why such populist ideologies have failed to take root, with polling indicating that people have generally been satisfied with the country’s fairly moderate leadership for the past several decades. And in her victory speech on Saturday, Ardern herself acknowledged that the win could likely be put down to her government’s promise of stability, positivity and unity during such a turbulent period of history.
“This has not been an ordinary election, and it's not an ordinary time,” Ardern declared in Auckland on Saturday. “It's been full of uncertainty and anxiety, and we set out to be an antidote to that.
“We are living in an increasingly polarised world, a place where, more and more, people have lost the ability to see one another's point of view,” she added. “I think in this election, New Zealanders have shown that this is not who we are.”
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