New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Monday delayed the country’s pending election by four weeks to October 17 after a renewed Coronavirus outbreak hampered campaigning.
The centre-left leader, after spending the weekend consulting with party leaders and the Electoral Commission, chose October 17, the earliest delayed date available to her.
“I have absolutely no intention at all to change from this point,” she said.
This short delay gives the commission more time to prepare including freeing up facilities for early voting during school holidays, she said.
Moving the date by four weeks also gives all parties a fair shot to campaign and delivers New Zealanders certainty without unnecessarily long delays, Ardern said.
“With the re-emergence of Covid-19 in our community these are not ordinary times and so while the decision as to the election date sits with me, I spoke with all party leaders to seek their views,” she said.
“Covid-19 will be with us for some time to come. Continuously pushing out an election does not lessen the risk of disruption,” the Prime Minster said, adding she would not change the election date again.
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, Ardern said.
Advance voting begins on October 3, she added.
Under political pressure from opponents, Ardern took the decision as her coalition partners also wanted to shift the original September 19 vote after COVID-19 was detected in Auckland last week, sending the country’s largest city into lockdown.
New Zealand’s PM said the return of the virus after 102 days without community transmission had rattled Kiwis and could have discouraged some from casting their ballots in a September election.
Riding high in opinion polls, Ardern also acknowledged concerns from rivals that curbs on campaigning would unfairly weigh the election in favour of her government.
All parties temporarily suspended campaigning in the wake of last week’s outbreak, the source of which remains unknown.
Last Tuesday, the Coronavirus was first detected in four family members in Aucklan and by Sunday the cluster had grown to 49 confirmed cases.
The South Pacific nation is following the same strategy that helped contain COVID-19 during a seven-week lockdown earlier this year — isolating positive cases, contact tracing and extensive testing.
Ardern’s personal popularity rating has got the lift of a record 60 per cent due to her earlier success, along with her leadership during last year’s Christchurch mosque attacks and the White Island volcano eruption.
Ardern’s Labour Party is on track to win office in its own right, without the minor party coalition partners — the Greens and New Zealand First (NZF) — it needed during its first term.
The main opposition National Party last week demanded the election be postponed until late November, or preferably next year, saying September 19 was untenable.
The PM’s coalition partner NZF backed the delay Monday after earlier saying the September option had been “fatally compromised” by the outbreak.
“Common sense has prevailed,” said NZF leader and Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters, whose populist party faces an election wipeout on current polling.
Labour’s other coalition partner, the Greens, said the four-week delay should give health authorities time to contain the Auckland cluster.
But co-leader James Shaw accused some parties of displaying “naked political self-interest” in demanding a delay, saying they hoped the pandemic’s economic impact would dent the government’s popularity in the meantime.
“We have been incredibly disappointed to see the National and other small parties continue to use the weekend to bang on about what would suit them best politically,” he said.
New Zealand witnessed a resurgence in the number of Coronavirus cases last week after a period of 102 days.
Nine new cases were confirmed on Monday, bringing the number of active cases linked to the Auckland cluster to 58, taking the overall tally to 1,631, the BBC reported.
The death toll currently stood at 22.