Election date may be determined by progress in defeating virus and ending the lockdown

As  the  Covid-19  hits  NZ  hard,  and  the  country   may have to be held  in lockdown longer than originally intended, the  issue   whether  the  general  election   on  September  19   should be   postponed   looms  larger.  It has  already been canvassed  in  some  media, but the  PM,  Jacinda Ardern,   last week insisted  there is no plan to postpone the election “at this stage”.

As  well as the general election  two referendums are due to be held on September 19.

There have  been  calls  for the formation of a  government  of  national  unity, as  well  as  calls  for the  general election to  be postponed.  Opposition Leader Simon Bridges instructed all of his MPs to put their election campaign on hold.

Ardern was  reported  on  Radio   NZ  as    saying:

“As you can imagine we take everything into account as we’re moving through. But at this stage obviously, my immediate focus is what’s happening in the next four to eight weeks rather than that far down the track.

While  ministers    are  preoccupied   hour-by-hour  with  dealing with the  Covid-19 crisis,  others  within  the  coalition  almost certainly   will  be  canvassing  the election options.

From  one side, Labour Party  strategists may be  swayed  by evidence  from their  own party  polling  which points  to  Ardern’s personal  ratings  touching  new  peaks.   And then  NZ  First,  whose  chances  of re-election  were looking slim  with public polls  showing  it below  the  5% threshold , may now think  it   could  coat-tail  Labour   back  to  power.

Headlines like  this  one  in the Dominion-Post— “In the  Survivor jungle, PM  is ahead of  the game”— have been used   over   text  reading:

The calm, compassionate, charismatic Jacinda  has  stood out as  not only the one you want to take home to the family, but also to  run household, business and country”.

In the  NZ  Herald ,  political  editor Audrey  Young   wrote:

It seems that brilliant  is the new normal for PM  Jacinda Ardern”.

Young contended that  Ardern   has  been  brilliant  at making and  communicating momentous decisions  that take  NZ into the unknown.

As  Ardern  put it so  well in her final speech to  Parliament this week, the government had no time to waste.  It could not plan for every intricate  detail before the lockdown  because  every hour  waiting  would have meant before more people exposed to Covid-19”.

Few   will  quibble  that  Ardern  has outshone  many  other  leaders   with the  communication skills  she has deployed.  So key  voices  in  Labour’s inner  circles  may  see  their chances of   winning a  second term as  dependent  on  catching  the  wave  of popularity  Ardern  is  riding at present.    No  need to  postpone  the election, as some  pundits  are urging.

That   argument   will be  reinforced  if  there is  clear  evidence – by August,  say –  that  the government’s  campaign  to  defeat  the  coronavirus has succeeded.

Labour  MPs   will be  pleased  if they can escape  awkward questions on the hustings  about   the initially slow and chaotic response to  the  Covid-19 outbreak, the early failure  to test/quarantine those returning from overseas-infected countries  and    the shortage of essential items like ventilators, masks and gowns,  as well  as the confusion over community testing.

What  if the  battle   is  still being waged?   Or   in the  aftermath   unemployment has reached the  levels  predicted  by  economists,  and  thousands of  businesses  especially  in the tourist and  hospitality  industries,  have collapsed?

Already it looks  as if the recession   NZ  is  heading  into   will  be  deep.  Even  substantial   businesses   may be driven to the  wall.

Queues  of the  jobless   outside  Work & Income  offices   are  no  great   advertisement   for any   governing  party.           

In  that  context   postponement might  be   the  sensible  political  option.    Yet  there  are downsides  to   that  as well.  NZ’s  recovery  could be   both protracted and  painful.

Living standards will have fallen.  Mountains  of  debt  incurred  in the   recession  will  have to be  repaid.  The  policies   Labour  campaigned   on  in 2017—reducing child   poverty,    eliminating homelessness,  restoring  mental  health capabilities—  will be  in tatters.

So  to  hold   the election on September  19  poses  a   dilemma   that  even a  political  genius   might  find hard to  resolve.


4 thoughts on “Election date may be determined by progress in defeating virus and ending the lockdown

  1. Wait until the bickering starts about how quickly we should move to alert Level 3, two and one. Especially of Sweden gets through this without locking down and other countries move earlier.


  2. And still, Dr Skegg aside, nobody questions her decision to leave the border open for weeks, not test arriving pax if they cheerily say “yeah I’m feeling good bro” and then, weeks later, have many of those people out and about in the community infecting those they have contact with. Brilliant Jacinda, aided and abetted by an appalling NZ media.

    Liked by 1 person

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