New Zealand has been the center of the world’s attention since June 2020 after the landslide victory of Jacinda Ardern, earning her second term in prime minister’s office. With the leadership in the world are still struggling in the battle against the novel coronavirus and many are responding to the second wave with more carelessness, New Zealand has been successful in containing it, avoiding community transmission, and managed to keep the confirmed cases under 2000 and reported 25 deaths up till now.
Jacinda Ardern, the leader behind New Zealand’s remarkable success, was earlier criticized for her incompetence in delivering the promised major campaign programs in the context of wealth inequality, housing, and child poverty. Some observers were also certain that her first term would be her last term. But after she proved her competence in smartly containing the virus from the nation, in October 2020 election, she won her second term as the Prime Minister of New Zealand, and that too a landslide victory with 49% of the vote, a majority win since the country shifted to proportional representation system via referendum.
New Zealand and Jacinda Ardern’s success this year has become the International example of how leadership could play a uniquely important role in the moment of crisis. The secret behind the success is the community approach that went to forming policies that favored the masses. A glimpse of PM’s decisive and empathetic leadership was seen last year, when on March 15, a white supremacist targeted two mosques in Christchurch and live-streamed the shootings on Facebook. The massacre resulted in the death of 51 innocent people and their families, traumatized by their loved ones’ loss.
New Zealand countered the terrorist attack with decisive anti-terrorism policies. As the white supremacist terrorist was found with a legal gun, within a month after the attack, New Zealand’s gun laws were changed. PM pledged to illegalize semi-automatic weapons in New Zealand and received great support as the 119 Members of Parliament voted in favor of the appeal with one opposing vote.
New Zealand showed there is no tolerance for a horrible act like this against humanity. This year, its court awarded life imprisonment to Brenton Tarrant without parole; the awarding “means the offender will not be given the opportunity to leave prison after serving only a portion of their total sentence.”
In the darkest of times, when along with the Muslim community, diversity of the nation was also under threat, Jacinda Ardern, with her right words and right actions, gave the much-needed message of assurance and protection to the Muslim community by serving justice for the victims and calling out on violence and extremism, especially white extremism.
Quoting one of the articles published in The Strategist on the Christchurch attack, “The response to the Christchurch attack will not focus on its own defeat the threat of violent extremism.” But Jacinda’s leadership is exemplary in giving out the message of peace and not Islamophobia, possess the power of change.
Subsequently, in 2020, the novel coronavirus had its moment. But confronting the public health emergency with leadership, Jacinda’s decisive and swift action with a clear vision that was rare but much needed was evident since the start. Her vision of containment of the virus gave rise to numerous social and economic policies that helped New Zealand revive its economy and public health.
New Zealand, to achieve its aim of smart containment, went hard, and went early. On March 19, with just 28 confirmed cases, New Zealand closed its border for foreign travelers, and even home returning New Zealanders were strictly instructed to self-isolate for 14 days. On March 23, when New Zealand had just 100 or 102 cases, it went under a nation-wide lockdown.
As CNN reported, “New Zealand’s lockdown was relatively strict – no takeaways, no beaches, and no driving outside of your neighborhood. The strictest rules were in place for around five weeks, but the country remained under effective lockdown for a further two weeks.” And the fruitful result of the strictness was visible in June when New Zealand lifted its lockdown restriction before any other country when no new cases were reported for weeks. But when in August, the threat of the second wave appeared, New Zealand didn’t shy away from going under lockdown again, which was lifted in October before elections.
As visible, New Zealand’s lockdown guidelines were one of the strictest in the world, and Jacinda was unapologetic about it. But a country with a tourist-centric economy still closed its border for foreigners so early says a lot about Jacinda’s priority of people’s health over the economy. The decision was obviously criticized because of the impact it would have on the country’s economy, to which Jacinda responded, “Surely, a dead or a dying population is bad for the economy.”
Being aware of the impact such strict lockdown guidelines would have on the mental health of people, the government launched three apps to help people manage and improve their mental well-being through e-therapy. All these tough decisions accompanied by kindness show what other countries lacked; care for people’s lives over the economy. Jacinda Ardern cared for people’s health as well as their mental health and set an example for what kind and effective leadership looks like.
As the virus could not be controlled with the standard pandemic action plan, imposing a strict lockdown of such extent was only made possible through effective communication. Jacinda at many times referred to New Zealanders as her ‘team of 5 million’ which from her actions included all the epidemiologist, scientist, policymakers, health workers, and citizens. Her trust in science and effective communication with authorities and citizens led her to form an agile team ready to ‘stand united against Covid-19’.
Sarah Robson, an analyst at Radio New Zealand, praises the effective communication that New Zealand used to explain their action plan of the containment of the virus. She talked about Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield, who stood along with Ms. Ardern at daily press conferences, “From the outset, he has carefully and calmly communicated many complex health issues around Covid-19 paving the way for government decisions,” she added, “Because he had clearly communicated the trajectory we were on in terms of the increase in the number of cases when Jacinda said we were going into lockdown, people understood why.”
While PM Jacinda Ardern’s leadership was highly applauded for her win against the virus, many of New Zealand’s geographical factors complemented and favored her strict policies. As discussed above, her leadership is worth all the praises, and her ‘go hard go early’ strategy, the country’s geography supported early closing at the border.
New Zealand is geographically isolated as the North, and South Island of the country lies in the south-west of the Pacific Ocean. Australia is some 1,600 km away, whereas the Americas are about 10,000 km away from the border of New Zealand. Also, the population density of New Zealand is low. According to the data of the World Bank, there are 18 people per square kilometer in New Zealand. Thus, these geographical advantages assisted New Zealand in to fight against the coronavirus. As the country stands in an isolated position, the geographical advantages made the travelers’ monitoring easier.
As Jacinda’s successful pandemic-containment has overpowered her incompetence in fulfilling campaign issues, New Zealanders rewarded her with a second term. But her next term will only get harder. Now Jacinda and her previously promised issues have to also deal with issues like unemployment, historic recession, and poverty that arose due to pandemic.