We wish you well, Ardern and Hipkins



 

Jacinda Ardern and Chris Hipkins (RNZ Photo by Dom Thomas)

Venkat Raman, Auckland, February 3, 2023
Our Leader in February 1, 2023 Digital Edition

The smooth transfer of power from Jacinda Ardern to Chris Hipkins as the Prime Minister of New Zealand following his unanimous election as the Leader of the Labour by the Party Caucus is an indication of internal discipline and unity.

The rise and fall of Ms Ardern as the Leader of the country was both meteoric and dramatic.

Mr Hipkins took charge of a Party bruised at the Polls since January 2022 but if the two major polls released over the weekend – The One News Kantar Poll and the Newshub Poll placed Labour ahead of National for the first time in 12 months and Mr Hipkins with the highest rating as the preferred Prime Minister, again for the first time. Opinion Polls have become mood indicators and as such National Party Leader Christopher Luxon has to worry about getting back on track.

The arduous Ardern years

Historians and political analysts will note that the short and yet eventful, five-and-half years career of Ms Ardern at the helm of affairs is both a lesson and a warning.

She became the Prime Minister in October 2017 without ever having been a member of the Cabinet. Her leadership of the Labour Party was less than three months old at that time.

Thrown Under the limelight under the watchful eye of the National Party, the largest political party in Parliament in 2017, she began a regime that would be questioned and her leadership placed under severe stress soon thereafter.

But she began well. The Christchurch Massacre on March 15, 2019, shook the nation and the rest of the world but Ms Ardern rose to the occasion, embracing the families of the victims of the terrorist attack and showing the world that New Zealand is a country of compassion and care. There was appeasement as the process of healing began. People rallied behind her and offered their support. The ‘Jacindamania’ began to rise.

 

Her decisive and efficient handling of the Covid-19 pandemic when the first phase hit in late February 2020 also received widespread approval. New Zealand was seen as a model by the rest of the world. The general election in October 2020 saw Labour return with 65 seats in Parliament, the largest ever in the history of the Mixed Member Proportion (MMP) System.

Ms Ardern continued to make headlines in the global media and she promised an ‘all-inclusive government.’

The betrayal and outrage

Unfortunately, that promise did not seem to work. Her management of the pandemic in 2020- especially the longest lockdown that Auckland had seen (about 103 days), the vaccination drive and the Anti-Vaccine protestors, the standoff in the Parliament precincts and a host of other issues began to mount- dissent and discord became rampant and Ms Ardern was accused of dividing the country.

The once harmonious society became fractured and even small gatherings of families and friends became a platform for heated exchanges.

Ms Ardern was seen as a divisive leader, unable to prioritise her actions and inept at taking irreversible and good decisions. Her admirers would say that none of these was intended but leaders are judged by results, not efforts.

Politicians carry a heavy burden on them and it is not uncommon for a much-loved and respected leader to lose popularity and face calls to resign.

Ms Ardern paid that price.

However, neither her integrity nor her sincerity of purpose can be questioned.

Jacinda Ardern will always be remembered for her services to the country, although compared to many of her predecessors, her stay as Prime Minister was short.

The tasks before Hipkins

Mr Hipkins has the uphill task of keeping his Caucus together, committed and motivated, ensuring good governance, offer relief to people suffering from a myriad of problems, not the least of which is the victims of the recent spate in Auckland and parts of Northland. Businesses look forward to his promised reforms that will enable them to meet the challenge of the looming recession, skills shortage, supply chain issues and natural disasters.

The Economist has reminded that Mr Hipkins has vowed to recover his Party’s standing by focusing on the ‘bread and butter issues that people care about.’

“That, he says, will include tackling the ‘pandemic of inflation,’ and making ‘the tax system fairer.’ In reality, Mr Hipkins’ best chance of signalling a change of tack will lie in abandoning a clutch of unpopular reforms that Ms Ardern has been pushing. An expensive merger between the country’s national television and radio broadcasters is likely to be scrapped. Unpopular legislation to overhaul the management of the country’s water structure, which has enraged conservatives and left other voters cold, may also be reconsidered,” the publication said.

Mr Hipkins has a good team of Ministers who can be called upon to do their part in rebuilding business confidence and containing the expected rise in unemployment and other problems. Carmel Sepuloni, who has proved her mettle with efficient handling of her portfolios during the pandemic and Michel Wood, who is seen as a business-friendly Minister will be among his trusted lieutenants in implementing his reforms.

Mr Hipkins has done well in two recent Opinion Polls.

With about nine months left for the general election, Mr Hipkins does not have much time to lose. He must restore the confidence of people and keep the wheels of the economy moving.

If there is one lesson that should be learnt from Jacinda Ardern’s experience is that the average New Zealander is an extremely patient individual, giving a fair chance to politicians to perform and fulfil their promises. But when those are breached, woe betides their disappointment that soon turns into anger.

Who can withstand the fury of the people?

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