On Saturday, a New Zealander, a port worker, tested positive for the coronavirus. The news became an international headline, and sparked high-level concerns in Auckland, despite the surge of new COVID-19 infection cases by record numbers across the world.
The single New Zealand case was special because it was the first new case in the country in more than three weeks. Since late September, New Zealand reported no new cases at all; quite an achievement by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s Liberal government, whose policies to contain the outbreak have been cited globally as a shining success. New Zealand has actually eliminated the virus twice — in June and in late September when the country beat a second wave that began in August.
Finally, her party’s success may indicate that the impact of the right-wing populist movements could be waning in the western world. That is also evident in the low poll numbers of United States President Donald Trump who trails by a double digit from his Democratic rival Joe Biden in the latest polls
And for that policy mainly, Arden and her party were rewarded by the voters by a landslide win in Saturday’s elections. The final results show that Ardern’s centre-left Labour Party won 49.1 per cent, or 64 seats and a rare, outright parliamentary majority. The opposition centre-right National Party won 26.8 per cent in Saturday’s poll — just 35 seats in the 120-seat assembly.
New Zealand was one of the first countries to apply strict measures to contain the pandemic, as early as February when its borders were closed and quarantine measures put in place. As countries around the world faced out of control new infections in March and April, New Zealand was in a much better position to contain the outbreak.
However, Arden’s success in securing a comfortable majority this time is the result of her work not only in the fight against the pandemic, but also to the fact that she is being seen as unifying figure in the country, which suffered its worst terrorist attack on 15 March, 2019. On that day, a Friday, a heavily armed white supremacist attacked two Islamic centres during the Friday payers in the town of Christchurch. He killed 51 people and injured 40.
Her unequivocal antiracism stance after the attack and her messages of empathy with victims and national unity were praised around the world. Her images wearing a hijab during the funerals of the victims will always be remembered by New Zealanders, especially the growing Muslim population, as a leader who defied norms to unite her country.
Finally, her party’s success may indicate that the impact of the right-wing populist movements could be waning in the western world. That is also evident in the low poll numbers of United States President Donald Trump who trails by a double digit from his Democratic rival Joe Biden in the latest polls.
There are multiple lessons to be learnt from Arden’s sweeping victory in Saturday’s elections. Her government’s success in containing the coronavirus outbreak could be the more relevant and pressing one to follow.