Written by Aditya Singh, a grade 12 student.
Jacinda Ardern just got elected as the Prime Minister of New Zealand for a consecutive second term. And it seems like Social Media and News circles alike both can’t seem to get enough of her. In all likelihood, you have already heard something about her and must be curious as to who she is.
So who is Jacinda Ardern and why have you been hearing so much about her?
She is the 40th Prime Minister of New Zealand and has been the leader of the Labour Party since 2017. Born 26 July 1980 in rural Hamilton, New Zealand to a police officer and a school catering assistant, she was introduced to politics while still a teenager by her Aunt Marie Ardern, a longstanding member of the Labour Party. From there she has risen to become a strong and competent leader who also knows the value of compassion in politics.
When inquired in an interview if she had changed as a person after assuming office, her aunt, sitting right across the table from her said, “Just the same dear. Exactly the same. Doesn’t matter whether you are up there or down there, she’ll treat you exactly the same.”
Within 24 hours of being elected, she was asked if she believed women could have both a strong career and a baby. With hindsight, the incident now has an almost humorous tone to it. Proving sceptics wrong, Ardern actually ended up giving birth while in office and then went on to get re-elected. She proclaims herself as a feminist and had this to say in a blog for Villainesse.com, “In my simple worldview, if you believe in equality, you should be a feminist.”
She led her country in the aftermath of the Christchurch shootings and rapidly enforced new gun laws banning most semiautomatic weapons and assault rifles. This, coupled with her handling of the current pandemic has shown that she is a leader who does not flinch from doing what is necessary.
She’s a strong supporter of LGBTQ+ rights in both thought and in action. She left the Mormon church in 2005 due to their stance against homosexuality. She has spoken in support of same-sex marriage and voted for the Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Act in 2013. She became the first New Zealand Prime Minister to march in a pride parade in 2018.
Another big issue she’s often associated with is child poverty and homelessness in New Zealand. It is something that she has promised to work towards dismantling and has featured largely on her 2017 election portfolio.
While a large number of world leaders express doubts about the severity of climate change and the threat it poses all in the face of irrefutable scientific evidence, Ardern has gone on record to say that climate change is real and has affirmed that New Zealand will be devoting the necessary resources and attention to the matter.
Noting this, she is often referred to as an anti-Trump, and is proclaimed as a beacon of liberal ideologies in a world constantly electing more and more right-wing male leaders.
However, as early as February 2020 her party was projected to lose the General election. Many were dissatisfied by the fact that she had failed to complete many of her campaign promises relating to child poverty and social inequality. There was also a large segment of the population annoyed by her ‘woke’ statements and stances on issues such as gay rights and racism. In light of such sentiments, it was assumed that the current opposition, the National Party would form the government. However, this was the consensus before COVID-19 happened.
As COVID began, her party was exceptionally adept at handling the pandemic. Their success against the crisis turned the tables and got them an all-time high approval rating of 60.9% from the public, which ultimately translated into a landslide victory. Ardern led her party to win 64 of the 120 seats in the House of Representatives and also managed to retain her Mount Albert electorate. The result gives her Labour Party an outright majority in the parliament, this being the first time that any party has achieved this in the 24 years since New Zealand established the proportional voting system.
While the rest of the world reeled from COVID-19, New Zealand which has a population of about 5 million has seen around 2000 cases of the disease and roughly 25 deaths. Which is astronomically low when compared to most other countries. Unlike other western leaders, Ardern’s efforts were directed towards eliminating the curve rather than flattening it. The government’s response was swift yet firm. Even though it is a heavily tourism reliant country, with over 4 million tourists per year, New Zealand shut its borders completely on March 19. Two days later a 4 stage action coronavirus response alert plan was announced and on 23rd of March, the citizens were given 48 hours to prepare for a 4-week complete lockdown.
Her decision was seen as a masterstroke masterclass in crisis leadership, she did not hesitate to publicly chastise even her own health minister for being in violation of the lockdown. She decided to strip him of his associate finance minister portfolio and demoted him to the bottom of the cabinet rankings. She even found support with the opposition who decided to hold back criticism for the response plan and instead helped the government, making it a notably apolitical ordeal.
In times like these, where hope seems fickle and anger among citizens worldwide seems to be the natural state, one is forced to wonder if perhaps we need more leaders like Ardern. Leaders who are not afraid to be compassionate in their politics, who see themselves as servants of the people and put their well-being above all. Leaders who shine in times of crisis when lives must be protected. It seems as if, for true universal progress, leaders like Jacinda Ardern are not just appropriate, but also necessary.
Here’s a fun anecdote
People would assume that being in politics made her into a cold, reserved person but apparently she still remains quite approachable. The same was attested by an Australian journalist who called the New Zealand parliament to get the proper pronunciation for her last name. Imagine his shock when he was put through to the Prime Minister herself who confirmed that its pronounced as “Ah-durn”.