Jacinda Ardern ‘humbled’ to become New Zealand PM

NZ First’s decision to back Labour makes Ardern (37) country’s youngest leader in 150 years

New Zealand's Labour leader Jacinda Ardern will form the country's next government after gaining the support of New Zealand First party leader Winston Peters.

 

Jacinda Ardern has said she is “privileged and humbled” to become New Zealand’s next prime minister 26 days after the country’s electorate cast their votes.

At an eagerly awaited press conference on Thursday, the kingmaker Winston Peters announced that his New Zealand First Party would throw its support behind Ms Ardern’s Labour Party.

This will allow Labour to form a coalition government with NZ First, along with the backing of the Green Party, which means Ms Ardern (37) becomes New Zealand’s third female prime minister.

Ms Ardern, who also becomes New Zealand’s youngest prime minister for 150 years, said she was committed to forming a strong and durable government.

“This is an exciting day. We aspire to be a government for all New Zealanders and one that will seize the opportunity to build a fairer, better New Zealand.

“We will work hard to ensure New Zealand is once again a world leader, a country we can all be proud of. We said we could do this, we will do this.”

After an agonising day of waiting Mr Peters announced he would support Labour because the global environment was undergoing rapid and seismic change, and he believed a Labour government was best-placed to handle the social and economic welfare of New Zealanders.

“For too many New Zealanders capitalism has not been their friend but their foe, ” Mr Peters said, claiming vulnerable New Zealanders had been left behind while the political elite got richer.

“We believe capitalism must regain its human face, and that conviction deeply influenced our decision.”

“We had a choice for a modified status quo or for change . . . that’s why in the end we chose a coalition government with NZ First and the Labour Party.”

Dramatic unveiling

Mr Peters said neither of the leaders knew of his decision before he took the podium, and learned of his choice at the same time as New Zealand voters. Ms Ardern said she “enjoyed the theatre” of the dramatic unveiling of the country’s change of government, while Bill English, the National Party leader and outgoing prime minister, said he was unfazed and it was “a bit of a detail”.

Mr English called Ms Ardern to congratulate her and conceded defeat, but said that with 44.4 per cent of the vote and 56 seats in the 120-strong parliament – the largest single party – National would be the strongest opposition the country had ever seen.

Ms Ardern has confirmed that NZ First’s nine MPs would have four cabinet roles and one junior role outside cabinet, although details of the portfolios would not be published until next week.

Ms Ardern said Mr Peters was considering whether to accept the role of deputy prime minister, which she had offered him.

The Labour/NZ First coalition government will be a minority one, with a combined 55 seats, and will rely on a confidence and supply deal with the Green Party’s eight MPs.

Labour’s victory is an extraordinary comeback after it changed leaders just two months after the general election. The party’s former leader Andrew Little handed the leadership to untested Ms Ardern on August 1st after tanking in the polls.

Within weeks, Ms Ardern was responsible for a surge of support for her party, increasing polling results by 19 points in just over a month.

Ms Ardern’s stunning popularity was dismissed as “stardust” by Mr English, but she went on to experience huge support from young voters and women and was credited with breathing life back into the New Zealand political scene.

A Labour government has pledged to wipe out child poverty, make tertiary education free, reduce immigration by 20,000-30,000, decriminalise abortion, introduce a water tax and make all rivers swimmable within 10 years.

Guardian service