One figure, former Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, is significantly absent as the last month of campaigning for New Zealand’s election begins. This absence is noticeable to observers from outside of the country.
Until her shocking resignation in January 2023, Ardern was the undisputed leader of New Zealand’s political scene for the previous five years. Currently, she is at Harvard, where she posted in April on Instagram that she is “helpfully” working during the election campaign in New Zealand.
Ardern got elected in 2017 on a wave of Jacindamania, and her exceptionally high popularity has continued to this day, which carried the Labour party under her leadership to a historic victory in 2020. She was a guest on night talk shows in the United States and appeared on the cover of Vogue, which contributed to her meteoric rise to fame in other countries as well.
Ardern has openly maintained a policy of non-involvement in the campaign, despite the fact that some prior leaders of New Zealand play an active role in rousing the party faithful before elections. However, recent predecessors often keep their distance, and Ardern has followed this practice.
Sue Moroney, a former Labour MP, stated that Ardern had become a “lightning rod for very toxic behavior and for any discontent people felt for a range of reasons.” Moroney also mentioned that Ardern had been the recipient of insulting bullying and death threats. Ardern had been the focus of these incidents. “I can only imagine how much of a weight has been lifted off of her shoulders by the fact that she is no longer in the country.”
Moroney stated that Ardern is adhering to a pattern that is common in New Zealand politics, which is for past prime ministers to allow space for their successors to create their own mandates and styles of leadership. Ardern is following this pattern.
Richard Shaw, a political lecturer at Massey University, made the observation that an appearance by Jacinda Ardern in the campaign could rouse the political right against Labour more so than it would rally the party faithful of Labour.
He continued by saying, “Labor, from both a tactical and a strategic standpoint, absolutely cannot allow that to occur.” “It is necessary to create a certain amount of separation between its own legacy and whatever comes after.”
Ardern resigned as prime minister at the beginning of this year, citing fatigue as the primary reason for her decision. She cited a string of disasters that occurred during her tenure of prime minister, the deadliest volcanic eruption, the greatest mass shooting in the nation’s history, and the Covid-19 pandemic. During that time period, her popularity among voters in New Zealand was beginning to decline.
Despite this, she continued to have significant popularity on a global scale. In the two days that followed Jacinda Ardern’s announcement that she step down as PM, James Shaw conducted a series of interviews with journalists from across the world in which he posed essentially the same question: why had New Zealand permitted a leader of such high caliber to leave?
Regarding the interest shown by people from other countries in the current election in New Zealand, he stated, “She was a really extraordinary figure in that respect, and now we’re just an irrelevance.”
On the other hand, within New Zealand, Shaw has stated that her time in government has become “entirely associated with Covid and the restrictions as well as the radicalization and polarization that has followed from that.”
The payback for New Zealand’s globally acclaimed reaction to the Covidian avian influenza was one of the lowest Covidian death rates per capita in the world. However, the cost of these restrictions, such as split families as a result of blocked international borders, failing businesses, and worldwide isolation, eroded Ardern’s support at home.
Ben Thomas, a political commentator, stated that the epidemic caused the Ardern government in New Zealand to age faster than it should have.
Hipkins, the head of the Labour Party, took over as Prime Minister after Ardern resigned in January, and within days of taking office, he abandoned several of Ardern’s initiatives, such as those pertaining to climate change and child poverty, in order to place more emphasis on the cost of living and “bread and butter issues.” According to Thomas, the current Prime Minister is attempting to present himself as a “change candidate” in comparison to his political predecessor, who belonged to the same party.
During her time at Harvard University, Ardern will be serving in three distinct capacities. Danny Osborne, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Auckland, remarked that it was “extremely astute” of her to step down at the time that she did.
“It gave Labour a fighting chance,” he remarked. “It was a turning point.”
Despite this, Labour has been seeing a continuing slide in popularity in recent months, according to the major political surveys conducted in New Zealand. In a poll conducted by Essential New Zealand earlier this month, the party’s support dropped by 2.5 points, reaching 26.9%.