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Ardern's stunning election victory holds lessons for the US

By Matthew Brockett and Ainsley Thomson, Bloomberg News on

Published in News & Features

Jacinda Ardern's emphatic election victory is seen as an endorsement of an inclusive brand of leadership that may ripple beyond New Zealand's borders.

In an age of populism and confrontation, Ardern's message of empathy and kindness married with skillful crisis management won her Labour Party its biggest share of the vote in more than 70 years. That contrasts starkly with the divisive politics in the U.S. as Donald Trump and Joe Biden face off for the presidency on Nov. 3.

"Ardern's approach could be a lesson for other leaders seeking to maximize their support base," said Zareh Ghazarian, senior lecturer in politics and international relations at Monash University in Melbourne. "Not only has she been able to lead the nation through very challenging circumstances, but also successfully communicate an overall vision. In New Zealand it's about the politics of inclusion."

Ardern, 40, won international plaudits for her response to the deadly shootings at two mosques in 2019, donning a headscarf as a mark of respect as she mourned with the Muslim community. This year, she's demonstrated her steel in tackling the coronavirus pandemic, enacting one of the world's strictest lockdowns to crush community transmission.

She rode the resulting wave of adulation to secure the first outright majority in parliament since New Zealand introduced proportional representation in 1996. Labour won 49% of the vote and 64 of the 120 seats in parliament. The scale of the victory may fuel her global appeal among those who already view her as a standard-bearer for liberal values.

Ardern is now in a position to lead New Zealand's most left-leaning government in decades but has yet to decide whether to include her ally the Green Party, which wants more action on issues such as poverty and climate change.

 

Ironically, her increased mandate may prompt her to rein in her left-leaning instincts as she looks to hang on to the center-right voters who have flocked to her banner.

'Huge dilemma'

"It's going to be a huge dilemma for her, whether to go to the left or stay in that center ground," said Lara Greaves, a lecturer in New Zealand politics at the University of Auckland. "Does she want to try to be a four-term prime minister or does she want to make transformational policy that changes people's lives?"

Her re-election spells continuity in a nuanced foreign-policy stance toward China. Ardern has tried not to antagonize New Zealand's largest trading partner while maintaining close ties with the U.S. and other western allies in the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing alliance.

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