Jacinda Ardern, a cut above the rest - GulfToday

Jacinda Ardern, a cut above the rest


Jacinda Ardern. File

If there is one leader who has shown remarkable statesmanship in the face of the pandemic, it is Jacinda Ardern, the Prime Minister of New Zealand. She is known for her charismatic appeal and tugging at the heartstrings of her voters.

New Zealand’s upcoming general election has the rare distinction of providing a choice of two female candidates as the country’s next leader in a poll that could be decided by the female vote.

Ardern was able to form government in 2017 partly on the back of a swing to Labour by female voters who celebrated the elevation of a fresh, young dynamic woman fighting against a male-dominated opposing political team.

Support has grown during Ardern’s first term, in which she became only the second woman in the world to give birth while in elected office. She won global praise for both her decisive yet compassionate handling of the 2019 Christchurch mosque attacks and her swift action this year to successfully contain the COVID-19 outbreak in New Zealand. Unlike countries such as the United States or India, New Zealand has registered an impressive record where the impact of the coronavirus is concerned: less than 2,000 cases and 25 deaths.

New Zealand eliminated COVID-19 from its shores and successfully re-opened its economy when most of the world is still shuttered.

New Zealand, a nation of five million, had appeared to have succeeded in halting community transmission of COVID-19, but a fresh outbreak in Auckland in August prompted the government to place the city back in lockdown.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who is facing a general election on Oct. 17, scaled back the restrictions earlier in September, but the city is still under alert level 2.5, meaning social gatherings of more than 10 people are not allowed. Masks are mandatory on public transport across the country.

Recent data suggests unemployment due to COVID-19 was not as severe as anticipated, and business morale improved due to the government’s hard and early response to the pandemic. She has a very down-to-earth approach to issues, and connects with the crowd instantly with her affable and unassuming behaviour. The calm and compassion shown by Jacinda Ardern in response to the killing of 50 Muslims by a suspected white supremacist has considerably improved the credentials of a leader whose youth and celebrity had given critics’ doubts.

In the hours after the carnage in Christchurch left New Zealanders reeling, the 38-year-old Ardern struck all the right notes.

A day after the attack, Ardern led a multi-party group to visit grieving families and Muslim community members. Wearing a black headscarf, she hugged relatives and let them set the pace and agenda as she listened and offered comfort.

“The prime minister, when she came wearing her scarf, that was big for us,” said Dalia Mohamed, who was mourning Hussein Mustafa, the father-in-law of her daughter and a volunteer at the Al Noor mosque where more than 40 people died.

Ardern’s pregnancy, maternity leave and the birth of her daughter while in office also set her apart, with many people seeing it as symbolising progress for women in leadership roles.

Appearing on US talk shows and taking her infant daughter onto the floor of the United Nations last year boosted her popularity. Ardern’s stratospheric rise to become the country’s youngest prime minister and third woman to hold the office resulted in New Zealanders coining the phrase “Jacinda-mania.”

Going by current trends, the public of New Zealand could continue rooting for this unique Prime Minister.

Jacinda Ardern said her government would phase out coal-fired boilers and reduce carbon emissions from public transport buses if returned to power in polls on Oct.17. The government will also create a NZ$50 million ($32.9 million) fund to help local councils buy zero emissions buses by 2025.

And she does not believe in hot air.

Climate change is a key issue in the New Zealand election, which according to a string of opinion polls, Ardern’s Labour Party is largely expected to win.

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