After the Christchurch shootings (Copyright AP)
Jacinda Ardern's speech at the United Nations’ 74th General Assembly was overshadowed in the media by the presence of her baby, whom she decided to breastfeed, in the room. Yet, it was an opportunity for her to affirm New Zealand's place as a regional power in relation to the microstates of the South Pacific. In September 2019, together with Frank Bainimarama, Prime Minister of Fiji, she initiated an Agreement on Climate Change, Trade and Sustainability. Her counterparts, the female Prime Ministers of Iceland and Norway, were also part of this initiative. At the South Pacific Forum summit, she led criticism of Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, a notorious climate sceptic who refused to consider the existential threat posed by rising oceans to small island states. During the terrible forest fires in Australia in late 2019 and in view of Morrison's stubborn refusal to acknowledge they were linked with climate change, Jacinda Ardern's reputation grew stronger across the Tasman Sea. A recent poll by the Lowy Institute in Sydney places her as Australia’s most trusted politician, a far better score than its own Prime Minister.
On December 8th, 2019, a volcanic eruption hit the tourist island of White Island, killing about twenty tourists and rescuers. Jacinda Ardern's immediate address to the victims, praising the courage of the dead rescuers, strengthened her image of a young mother, an older sister… and an outstanding empathetic politician. These qualities were put to the test in February 2020, with the outbreak of Covid-19 in New Zealand. Her first decisions were radical: she declared a complete border closure to take advantage of the country's island status, and imposed one of the strictest lockdowns on the planet. Every night, she reassured the population through the livestream addresses she arranged from her living room once her baby, Neve, was in bed, and under the slogan "Unite against Covid-19". The educational and reassuring dimension of these "friendly conversations" can be compared with the daily press briefings of Scottish Chief Minister Nicola Sturgeon, in the same circumstances. But in a country where a team sport, namely rugby, is almost a national religion, her injunctions to the "National Team" had particular resonance. New Zealand was initially the only country that seemed to have contained the virus and has not experienced a second wave, though since this paper was initially written, several new cases of Covid 19 have appeared and some less stringent lockdown measures have been put in place.
The country was able to successfully begin a gradual deconfinement. In this context a video that went viral of Jacinda Ardern and her companion being denied entry to a restaurant in Wellington, in order to respect social distancing, has further strengthened the image of this "woman of the people", leader in the eyes of her fellow citizens. With the economic measures she announced, especially those regarding employees, her management of the Covid-19 crisis is almost unanimously accepted in the archipelago, and is a cause of envy for her Australian neighbors led by a mini-Trump, Scott Morrison.
Jacinda Ardern's firm and decisive action in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic further strengthened her international reputation as champion of the island states. When the idea to create a "travel bubble" with Australia was raised, New Zealand insisted that the micro-States of the South Pacific could also benefit from it. Furthermore, and more than elsewhere, New Zealand’s economic program to overcome the Covid-19 crisis gives a priority to ecological measures. If New Zealand was a "paradise for workers" at the beginning of the last century, one could say that it is now a paradise for environmentalists. For pragmatic New Zealanders, the world’s leading exporter of dairy products, the image of a green New Zealand - strengthened by the number of blockbusters shot in the country, such as The Lord of the Rings - is also an excellent marketing tool.
Legislative elections have been announced for September 19, 2020, have been postponed to October 17, due to a resurgence in the epidemic. A latest poll published on July 26, 2020 by the Newshub-Reid Institute, gave Ardern a popularity rating of 62%, while the new leader of the National Party, Judith Collins, only scored 14.6%. The Labour Party seems capable of governing with an absolute majority on its own following the next legislative elections. However, as Jacinda Ardern has shown, seven weeks can be a lifetime in politics.
Illustration : David MARTIN for Institut Montaigne