NEWSMAKER-New Zealand’s Ardern storms to re-election with ‘be strong, be kind’ mantra

WELLINGTON, Oct 17 (Reuters) – Jacinda Ardern turned
speaking from the heart and smiling through adversity into a
winning formula for a blowout re-election as New Zealand’s
leader on Saturday.

Now Ardern, who made a name for herself by crushing COVID-19
in the country and healing the nation after a massacre of
Muslims by a white supremacist, faces a challenge to show her
leadership extends beyond crisis management and kindness.

Her Labour Party won a landslide victory in the general
election, a resounding mandate that ushers in New Zealand’s
first purely left-leaning government in decades and may allow
her to form a single-party government.

The win is also the reward for Ardern’s leadership through a
series of extraordinary events that shaped her first three-year
term: the gunman’s massacre of 51 worshippers at two
Christchurch mosques and the eruption of the White Island
volcano, which killed 21.

“Be strong, be kind,” New Zealand’s youngest prime minister
in more than a century repeated through these dramatic events,
her empathetic leadership and crisis management skills often
masking her government’s shortcomings.

Ardern’s left-leaning government will face a looming
economic hangover from COVID-19, a deep plunge in output and
surge in debt after her strict lockdowns, a worsening housing
crisis and a growing divide between rich and poor.

Despite promising a transformational term in 2017, Ardern’s
affordable housing programme was set back by blunders, plans for
a capital gains tax that would have addressed the growing
rich-poor divide were scrapped, and her government fell woefully
short of its goal to reduce child poverty.

Even on climate change, which Ardern called “my generation’s
nuclear-free moment”, progress has been incremental.

“I think it’s fair to say they have not achieved what they
had hoped to achieve,” said Ganesh Nana, Research Director at
Wellington economic think tank BERL. “There are many
disappointed with the pace of change.”

REFRESHING CHANGE

Ardern burst onto the global scene in 2017 when she became
the world’s youngest female head of government at the age of 37.

She became a global icon in a rise dubbed “Jacinda-mania,”
as she campaigned passionately for women’s rights and an end to
child poverty and economic inequality in the island nation.

Ardern, raised a Mormon by her mother and police officer
father, left the church over its stance on LGBTQ people in the
early 2000s and has since described herself as agnostic.

Asked by a television presenter, hours after being appointed
Labour leader in 2017, whether she planned to have children,
Ardern said it was “totally unacceptable in 2017 to say that
women should have to answer that question in the workplace”.

Ardern did in fact have a baby daughter in June 2018, eight
months after becoming prime minister – only the second elected
leader to give birth while in office, after Pakistan’s Benazir
Bhutto.

Many took her pregnancy and maternity leave in office as
symbolising progress for women leaders. Within three months of
arriving in the world, her daughter Neve Te Aroha was at the
U.N. General Assembly in New York with her mother.

Ardern is feted globally as part of a new wave of
progressive and young leaders that include France’s Emmanuel
Macron and Canada’s Justin Trudeau.

Helen Clark, a former New Zealand prime minister for whom
Ardern worked after university, said the young leader represents
a refreshing and sharp point of difference in a world where news
is dominated by utterances of populist and authoritarian
leaders.

“Jacinda Ardern can be best compared with the three
Scandinavian women prime ministers who are from the
centre-left,” said Clark, co-chair of a World Health
Organization panel on the global COVID-19 response.

“All of them have led good responses to the pandemic,
putting health security first and communicating in an empathetic
way with the public in each of their countries.”

CHRISTCHURCH

Last year Ardern received worldwide praise for her response
to the Christchurch attacks, which she labelled terrorism. She
wore a hijab as she met the Muslim community the next day,
telling them the country was “united in grief”.

She delivered a ban on semiautomatic firearms and other gun
curbs, a stark contrast to the United States, where lawmakers
and activists have struggled to address gun violence despite
numerous mass shootings.

At the U.N. General Assembly, Ardern, asked world leaders:
“What if we no longer see ourselves based on what we look like,
what religion we practice, or where we live … but by what we
value?

“Humanity, kindness, an innate sense of our connection to
each other. And a belief that we are guardians, not just of our
home and our planet, but of each other.”
(Reporting by Praveen Menon; Editing by Himani Sarkar, Kevin
Liffey and William Mallard)

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