Jacinda Ardern and Judith Collins (Picture from The Conversation)
If the Opinion Polls released over the past eight months are any indication, Labour Party will be elected to form the next government, but the task of Leader Jacinda Arden negotiating with party or parties who gain re-entry to Parliament will be formidable.
Until two weeks ago, predications were that Labour will be able to govern on its own; if it does, the Party would create history; being the first since the Mixed Member Proportion (MMP) system was introduced in 1996. That could set the trend to debate the efficacy of the system and perhaps lead to the establishment of a bicameral legislature.
Pact with the Greens
Speculation nationwide is that Labour will secure 60 seats, needing the crucial one extra seat to be in government. If the Polls are right, the Greens will be the only Party that would be willing to work with a Labour-led government. The ACT Party is too far right to strike a deal with Ms Ardern, and the indications are that New Zealand First may not gather enough votes to be in Parliament.
But nothing can be taken for granted, for there are times when Opinion Polls can be misleading.
Rise of Jacinda Ardern
A politician who was seen as a young woman with a lot of hope at the Indian Newslink Electionlink launch held on February 28, 2017, has today risen to be one of the most admired leaders of the world, and certainly the most determined Prime Minister of this Century.
The empathy and love that she showed on the aftermath of the Christchurch massacre on March 15, 2020 made Ms Ardern the champion of the common people. According to her critics, she also handled equally well the Whakaari/While Island eruption on December 9, 2019 and the concerns it raised around the world.
Covid-19 has afflicted most countries across the Continents since December 2019 and continues to pose serious threats to human lives and economies. New Zealand is among a handful of countries that handled the pandemic situation well. The country is now fully open to all businesses with freedom of movement, although the borders are closed for international traffic.
The government has the unenviable task of managing New Zealanders returning from overseas in isolation and quarantine facilities. This has become a messy task with breaches by some people and leaks by a few National MPs.
The Judith Collins factor
Notwithstanding the high level of public endorsement that Ms Ardern and Labour enjoy less than three days into the general election, the rising importance of Judith Collins as the Leader of the National Party since her election on July 14, 2020 can neither be ignored nor underplayed. She is an aggressive politician and carries her campaigns on war-footing.
That attitude could be self-destructive. Since the onset of Covid-19, the National Party and its Spokespersons have continued to attack the government on every issue, while they should have been supportive in fighting off the pandemic.
Nonetheless, the fact that the National Party is in the process of rejuvenation cannot be discounted. Ms Collins has stimulated national debate with her eye-watering $31 billion infrastructure upgrade plan required to fix the transport network in many cities, with the largest share going to Auckland, followed by upper North Island.
But none of these would cut ice with New Zealanders who are largely unimpressed by grandeur. What matters to them is good and firm leadership, sound fiscal management, policies and programmes that promote a higher standard of living and most important of all, clean and transparent governance.
As the election campaign gets under way, Labour’s slings at the possible cost of other National Party’s policies would be watched with abiding interest.
Democracy under trial
Democracy is going through a difficult time. Where autocrats have been driven out of office, their opponents have mostly failed to create viable democratic regimes. Even in established democracies, flaws in the system have become worryingly visible and disillusion with politics is rife. Yet just a few years ago democracy looked as though it would dominate the world.
As the Economist wrote, democracies are on average richer than non-democracies, are less likely to go to war and have a better record of fighting corruption.
“More fundamentally, democracy lets people speak their minds and shape their own and their children’s futures. That so many people in so many different parts of the world are prepared to risk so much for this idea is testimony to its enduring appeal.”