Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s center-left Labour Party won a landslide victory in New Zealand’s general election on Saturday as voters rewarded her for a decisive response to COVID-19. The mandate means Arden could form the first single-party government in the country in decades.
“This is a historic shift,” said political commentator Bryce Edwards of Victoria University in Wellington, describing the vote as one of the biggest swings in New Zealand’s electoral history in 80 years.
No leader has achieved an absolute majority since New Zealand adopted a proportional voting system in 1996, leading to a succession of multi-party governments. Ardern’s performance beat pre-election opinion polls and put Labour on course for its strongest showing since 1946.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is the first leader under New Zealand’s current system to be elected outright https://t.co/WDTCA8TsDG
— TIME (@TIME) October 17, 2020
Thanking her supporters for the victory, the prime minister said that elections do not have to be divisive. “I cannot imagine a people I would feel more privileged to work on behalf of, to work alongside and to be prime minister for,” she added. “Tonight’s result does give Labour a very strong and a very clear mandate.”
Born in Hamilton, Ardern grew up in Morrinsville and Murupara, where she attended a state school. After graduating from the University of Waikato in 2001, Ardern began her career working as a researcher in the office of Prime Minister Helen Clark. She later worked in London, within the Cabinet Office, and was elected president of the International Union of Socialist Youth. Ardern was first elected as an MP in the 2008 general election when Labour lost power after nine years. She was later elected to represent the Mount Albert electorate in a by-election in February 2017.
Ardern was unanimously elected as deputy leader of the Labour Party on 1 March 2017, following the resignation of Annette King. Just five months later, with an election due, Labour’s leader Andrew Little resigned after a historically low opinion polling result for the party, with Ardern elected unopposed as leader in his place.
Ardern later became the world’s second elected head of government to give birth while in office (after Benazir Bhutto) when her daughter was born on 21 June 2018.