On an Oct. 1 campaign visit to Nelson, a small city at the top of New Zealand’s South Island, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was mobbed by supporters as she walked through the streets. Cries of “We love you, Jacinda!” were common as she moved through the maskless throng, mostly women and children clamoring for selfies. The prime minister declined to shake hands, but she happily bumped elbows.
Ardern’s greatest strength as a politician is her authenticity and ability to relate to others. It has served her well during her first term, when the nation has faced some of its darkest moments—a terrorist attack by a white supremacist that left 51 dead, a volcanic eruption that killed 21, and most recently the Covid-19 pandemic. National elections are being held on Oct. 17, and polls predict a resounding victory for Ardern’s left-leaning Labour Party, despite a slumping economy and Ardern’s failure to deliver on key pledges such as fixing a housing crisis and lifting children out of poverty. There’s even a chance Labour could win an outright majority, which no party in New Zealand has done since the 1990s.
The opposition National Party is wooing voters with tax cuts and attacking Ardern for not making good on her promises. But so far, it hasn’t dented the prime minister’s popularity.
Ardern, 40, gained fame outside New Zealand as the world’s then-youngest female head of government, at 37, and as the first world leader to bring her baby to the UN General Assembly. Her rise to political stardom was rapid. As a member of parliament, she was thrust into the Labour Party’s top job just two months before the last election, in 2017. The party was at risk of a crushing defeat, so leader Andrew Little stepped down and handed Ardern the reins. In what became known as “Jacinda-mania,” she ignited the campaign and led Labour to an upset victory over National with the backing of two smaller parties.
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