Introducing Jacinda Ardern

Richard Swift profiles New Zealand/Aotearoa’s new 37-year-old Prime Minister – the country’s youngest in 150 years

In a pleasant change for this column from first-past-the-post, an exercise in proportional representation has brought a 37-year-old Prime Minister to power in New Zealand/Aotearoa – the country’s youngest in 150 years – with the support of the Green and New Zealand First parties.

The charismatic and relentlessly positive Jacinda Ardern came out of nowhere to snatch victory from Bill English’s conservative National Party. While Ardern’s Labour Party finished around seven percentage points behind the front-running Nationals, her ability to make common cause with the other two main parties put her in the driver’s seat, charged with bringing about a change for the 56 per cent of New Zealanders who had voted for one.

Ardern is a longstanding Labour activist and a former Mormon who left the church over its stance against LGBT+ rights. A strong advocate for decriminalizing abortion, tackling child poverty and stopping foreign speculation in the real-estate market, she has referred to capitalism as a ‘blatant failure’ in the face of rampant homelessness in New Zealand and opposed the National Party’s plans to cut taxes for the rich.

Her challenge will be to maintain the coalition that supports her minority government with just a paper-thin majority of seats. To keep the Greens on side, she will need to take convincing action against climate change and keep her promise to increase funds for conservation. At the same time, she will need to placate the curmudgeonly Winston Peters and the quirky brand of populism of his New Zealand First Party. Her decision to make Peters Deputy PM may help. Interesting times ahead.