New Zealand: Jacinda Ardern becomes country's youngest ever female Prime Minister

Labour Party leader wants to build thousands of affordable homes, spend more on healthcare and education, and clean up polluted waterways

Samuel Osborne
Thursday 19 October 2017 07:40
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Jacinda Ardern becomes the youngest female Prime Minister of New Zealand

Jacinda Ardern will be New Zealand‘s next Prime Minister after a minor political party chose to make a deal with liberals following the election nearly a month ago.

At 37 years old, Ms Ardern will be the nation’s youngest leader in more than 150 years, and the youngest female leader of any developed economy in the world, sparking comparisons with other charismatic premiers – from France’s Emmanuel Macron to Canada’s Justin Trudeau.

The leader of New Zealand First, Winston Peters, said his party had opted for change over a version of the “status quo”, as he announced his party would enter coalition with Ms Ardern’s Labour.

The liberal Green Party will support the coalition but won’t be part of the government.

New Zealanders have been waiting since 23 September to find out who will govern after the election ended without a clear winner.

The policies of New Zealand First are nationalistic and eclectic. Mr Peters wants to drastically reduce immigration and stop foreigners from buying farms.

He also opposes plans by the incumbent National Party to increase the pension age and is against attempts by Ms Ardern’s Labour Party to tax certain water users.

Labour said it would stick to its campaign pledges to change the central bank’s mandate, and seek to renegotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal and ban foreign ownership of certain types of houses.

“Labour has always believed that government should be a partner in ensuring an economy that works and delivers for all New Zealanders,” Ms Ardern told reporters on Thursday.

The National Party has held power for the past nine years. Prime Minister Bill English said his party has grown the economy and produced increasing budget surpluses which benefit the nation.

Mr English had said he thought the National Party could form a strong government with New Zealand First, and that he was disappointed by the outcome of coalition talks.

Asked how he rated Ms Ardern, an emotional Mr English pointed to her rapid rise through the political ranks: “That’s a fairly remarkable performance given that just 10 or 12 weeks ago she was the deputy leader of a failing opposition.”

The deal marks the end of nearly a decade of centre-right National Party governments, but Ms Ardern is unlikely to lead the country in a dramatic shift to the left.

Labour made a last minute-gamble when it appointed her as a leader not long before the vote, hoping to ride the global sea of change that drove Britain to vote to leave the European Union and Donald Trump to become US president.

Ms Ardern confirmed the role of deputy prime minister had been offered to Mr Peters, and the pair are already understood to have agreed on a policy of building tens of thousands of affordable homes.

Economist Paul Dales said that a government under Ms Ardern and Mr Peters, who said capitalism had become “not a friend but a foe” to many New Zealanders, was more likely to oversee “a sharper slowdown”.

“Their tighter immigration proposals and more restrictive housing policy all suggest economic growth could be a little bit weaker than the Nationals’ policy,” he said of Labour.

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