It is Spring in the Southern Hemisphere and New Zealand is about a week away from discovering the results of election night.
2020 is no ordinary year of election for the country, for more than one reason.
Against a background of a devastating pandemic that has affected all aspects of life and livelihood, New Zealand voters will also be voting for two Referendums that will create history with their outcomes. They are both complex, controversial, and very personal-belief-orientated, making them subject to intense banter among voters.
Do-or-die combat for power
At the helm of the General Election 2020 in New Zealand are two powerful personalities – Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Opposition Leader Judith Collins.
Politics is a curious space; while sharing a common objective in the world at large brings people together, in politics, the common objective divides, antagonises, and alienates.
That common objective, after all, is a seat of tremendous power and potency, and only one individual or Party can have it.
Thence, and also in many other ways, Ms Ardern and Ms Collins are chalk and cheese.
Let is take a closer look at these women, and their individual approaches towards this “do-or-die” combat for the position of 41st Prime Minister of New Zealand.
Leaders in contrast
Ardern, a battle-weary current Prime Minister, displays body language that is reminiscent of an employee who has worked hard throughout their tenure, and is now, at the end of their energy levels, expected to produce evidence of their work with full fervour.
Regardless, at Leaders’ debates, she dresses in cheerful colours, is composed, non-confrontational, and shows nerves of steel. Collins’ body language, on the other hand, swings between deceptively positive (when the cameras are on her) and reflections of her true state of mind, which manifest themselves in frequent eye rolls.
While that opinion may seem biased at the outset, it is hard to ignore the background against which they are both operating: One from a solid foundation of crisis management and reforms that have garnered applause from all over the world, and the other set against a backdrop of intra-party conflicts, frequent leadership changes, and numerous foot-in-the-mouth moments from various members of their Party, including former leaders.
There are some commonalities too, though. Hand movements while talking, and selective eye contact between the leaders is noticeably scripted, and sometimes even robotic.
Having said that, there is nothing wrong with preparation for all aspects of something as significant as a political debate.
What the two leaders need to keep in mind though, is that more often than not, body language and gestures give away what they are really thinking, even if the spoken word is trying to convey a different message.
When Ms Collins says “you know what,” “tell you what,” and “guess what” every few minutes while pointing aggressively at the moderator, one can tell that she is not trying to make people aware of a certain point, but rather being visibly condescending.
Short public memory
Ms Ardern on the other hand, while keeping her choice of words and tone in check to suit a civil conversation, sometimes gives away through the occasional sigh that her patience is running thin.
Among other parameters, the result of the General Election will be a test of whose body language voters saw through and interpreted correctly.
Unfortunately, and sometime unfairly, recall and decision-making is a function of what was last witnessed and heard. This means that the last three years of governance, opposition scrutiny, and various other significant criteria run the risk of being overlooked by voters in favour of most recent debates, public appearances and campaigns.
So, what will it be – Form, function, or an idealistic combination of both?
Mahima Sud is a freelance writer based in Auckland. Her writing expertise includes journalistic articles, web content writing, and resume writing.
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