AUCKLAND: Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Monday delayed New Zealand’s looming election by four weeks to 17th October after a renewed coronavirus outbreak.
Ardern was under pressure from political opponents and coalition partners to shift the 19th September vote following the discovery of COVID-19 in Auckland last week, sending the country’s largest city into lockdown.
She said the return of the virus after 102 days without community transmission had affected Kiwis and could have discouraged some from casting ballots. She also acknowledged concerns from rivals that curbs on campaigning would unfairly weigh the election in favour of her government.
After spending the weekend consulting party leaders and the Electoral Commission, she chose October 17, the earliest delayed date available to her.
Ardern said the change meant all parties would be campaigning under the same conditions and she would not move the election’s timing again regardless of the situation.
“I have absolutely no intention at all to change from this point,” she said. “This decision gives all parties time over the next nine weeks to campaign and the Electoral Commission enough time to ensure an election can go ahead.”
All parties temporarily suspended campaigning in the wake of last week’s outbreak. The virus was first detected in four family members in Auckland early last week and grown to 58 confirmed cases, with five people in hospital.
Ardern’s Labour Party is on track to win office in its own right, without the minor party coalition partners, Greens and New Zealand First (NZF) needed during its first term.
The main opposition National Party last week demanded the election be postponed until late November or preferably next year. Ardern’s coalition partner NZF backed the delay after earlier saying the September option had been “fatally compromised” by the outbreak.
Labour’s other coalition partner, the Greens, said the four-week delay should give health authorities time to contain the Auckland cluster.
New Zealand is following the same strategy that helped contain coronavirus during a seven-week lockdown earlier this year – isolating positive cases, contact tracing and extensive testing.
The earlier success has helped lift Ardern’s personal popularity rating to a record 60 percent, along with her leadership during last year’s Christchurch mosque attacks and a volcanic eruption.