Revisiting Jacinda Ardern’s tenure – Hype vs Reality!

| Aayush Pal
As one of New Zealand’s celebrated Prime Ministers, Jacinda Ardern’s policies and politics have been appreciated and scrutinized the world over. Here’s a look at her phenomenal political journey.

Jacinda Ardern who served as the 40th prime minister of New Zealand resigned from the PM post last week. This news sent shockwaves across the globe. She has been one of the most influential politicians of her time. In her resignation speech, she famously said, “I no longer have enough in the tank”.

Jacinda became the PM in 2017, her popularity was such that ‘Jacida-mania’ was a norm in the country. She ran for elections in 2017 which created a new political atmosphere in Wellington. She was known for her humane and empathetic approach. This side of her personality was seen during the Christchurch terrorist attack when she referred to victims, including the immigrants and refugees as “they are us” and embraced them. She was also known for her politics of kindness when world over politics was dominated by strong male leaders. Among them, Ardern’s way provided a fresh approach to world politics. Such was her personality that she used the word kindness in her resignation speech. 

However, the question that still looms large is what made her resign all of a sudden. Was it a mere personal choice or a planned decision? Many Political pundits in Wellington opine that her labour party is not in a good position and was facing tough competition from the opposition. As 2023 is the first election year after the pandemic and knowing the strict covid measures that the Kiwis went through, there were chances that people could have turned against Ardern and her party. However, the other side of the argument is that despite all the shortcomings, Jacinda was still the favourite to win the election. But some say this move by Ardern was done to safeguard the interests of the labour party in the next election.

Arden’s Covid policy

Covid was a crucial turn in Ardern tenure as Prime Minister. Her active and responsive approach helped New Zealand contain Covid quickly, bringing international limelight as several countries across the world adopted New Zealand’s Covid management approach. In the first phase of the pandemic in 2020, when the world was struggling to contain the spread of the Covid virus, New Zealand saw zero cases during that period. While it certainly brought applause to Ardern’s Covid management skills, many were surprised too. The second half of 2022 witnessed the delta outbreak which was later controlled. During both outbreaks, Ardern implemented strict Covid lockdown measures, curbing the mobility of people, and compromising the economy. Her measures angered and frustrated New Zealanders which eventually led to the ‘Freedom convoy’ protests against Covid lockdown measures.

In Canada, hundreds of truck drivers converged on the streets of Canada calling themselves the ‘Freedom Convoy’. Such large-scale protests by the truckers were rarely seen in Canada and this was something opposite to what Canada is known for. In New Zealand, in a copycat of a ‘Freedom Convoy’ in Canadia, Truckers and common people assembled in large numbers in public, blocked highways, and surrounded and camped around the parliament building for days. This hampered the movement of the common public. The protests were organised to force the government to remove its strict restrictions. The protest put a lot of pressure on Ardern, who responded with force by authorising the authorities to use coercive methods to remove the protesters from public places. Her measures brought her a lot of flak.

The foreign policy of Jacinda Ardern

After coming to power in 2017, Ardern’s first foreign engagement as PM was at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Vietnam. It was for the first time as PM, she met the then US President Donald Trump at the summit. The visit generated a lot of news bytes over the lack of goodwill between the two leaders. Some say that the bitterness between the two reflected in her policies which seemed to be anti-Trump.

With regards to China, many critics of Ardern hold her responsible for allowing a free pass to China in the Pacific. Under her, China became New Zealand’s largest trading partner. This allowed Beijing to mark its presence in the Oceanic region, gain proximity to Canberra and allow it to surround Australia. China’s foray into the Pacific came when Australia under PM Morrison was in the midst of a trade war with China. Many say that New Zealand provisioned the China-Solomon Islands pact in 2022 which led to the isolation of Australia in the region.

While Ardern was already facing challenges to balance ties between the USA and China, another set of problems came for Ardern in the form of a nuclear submarine deal between the UK, USA and Australia. Not only did this deal isolate New Zealand but a non-nuclear Oceanic continent would soon have a nuclear submarine. Ardern immediately announced that the nuclear submarines won’t enter the Wellington waters, causing a lot of displeasure in Australia. 

The FTA of New Zealand with the EU is considered a major achievement under Ardern’s tenure. Ardern silenced critics who charged her with being pro-China as the FTA started a new chapter with Europe.

Ardern’s stance on the Ukraine war was another topic of debate. On 24 February 2022, when a special military operation in Ukraine was announced by Russia, Ardern’s government was one of the first to respond with sanctions on Russia. New Zealand joined the allies of the West in the Pacific namely Japan and Australia which too announced sanctions against Russia. Ever since Ardern has been a strong critic of the Kremlin. 

New Zealand after Ardern

Despite all her flaws, Ardern has surely left behind her own legacy in Wellington politics. After Arden’s resignation, Chris Hipkins has been appointed as the new PM. Though Ardern set a solid foundation for her successor and placed New Zealand in a strategically prominent place in the Pacific, the new PM will face many challenges in the future. Some of the challenges Hipkins could face are:  

1) General elections in 2023: New Zealand will go on a general election in October 2023, giving very little time for present PM Hipkins to work. Moreover, he also needs to carry the burden of leading the labour party in the upcoming election, further increasing the expectations from him. As political experts in Wellington say, Labour is not the favourite going into this election. Moreover, the resignation of Ardern has further created more worries for the Labour Party and strengthened the chances of the Conservative party. 

2) Rising Inflation: The crumbling world economy, courtesy the global instability, has affected countries all around, including New Zealand. This has also become an issue for voters across the world in many countries and it is no different in New Zealand, where the high cost of living due to high inflation has created problems for common people. This may be a major parameter for the voters while casting their ballot in the general elections.

As Hipkins takes office in tough domestic and international scenarios, it is both a challenge and an opportunity, which he can use not only to sail Wellington through this crisis but also to cement his place among the foremost prime ministers of New Zealand.

(The author is a post-graduate student in International Relations at Kalinga university, Raipur. The opinions expressed are the author’s own)

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