• The Financial District


When New Zealanders vote on Saturday in the country's general election, the question seems not so much whether Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern will win re-election to a second term, but by how much, Kyodo News reported.

Ardern's first term in office was a baptism of fire, and the way she responded with empathy and kindness has made her international household name.

After becoming her center-left Labour Party's youngest-ever leader, less than two months before winning the 2017 election, the 40-year-old has led New Zealand through a once-in-a-century pandemic, a deadly volcanic eruption and the country's worst-ever mass shooting with her signature calm.

So whether it is her crisis management skills, or her approachable communication style -- a besweatered Ardern was praised for holding an impromptu Q&A session on social media as the country went into a four-week-long coronavirus lockdown -- it is unsurprising the Labour Party is shaping up to be the popular choice.

While opinion polls strongly suggest Ardern will beat Judith Collins, her center-right National Party counterpart, it remains to be seen whether Labour will be able to govern alone.

Polling released by both 1News-Colmar Brunton last Thursday put Labour on track to win 60 seats -- just one seat short of holding an outright majority in the country's unicameral parliament, the 120-seat House of Representatives.

By contrast, the leading opposition National Party is projected to win roughly 41 seats.

If Labour were to win the majority of seats in 2020, it would be the first time a political party has governed without a coalition partner since New Zealand switched to the current electoral system in 1996.

But Ardern's popularity comes in spite of her track record on domestic policies.

Putting aside New Zealand's pandemic-induced recession -- the first in almost 10 years -- some of the most pressing issues facing the nation are housing affordability and poverty. Ardern went to the 2017 election with promises on each: vowing to build 100,000 houses in a decade and to lift 100,000 children out of poverty.

But in early October, Labour admitted that just over 600 of the so-called Kiwibuild homes have been built, and in February the government said 18,400 children had been lifted out of poverty.

Commentators have noted that as the leader of a three-way coalition government between the populist New Zealand First Party and environmentalist Green Party, it has been difficult for Ardern to push through all her policies.

However, if Labour wins the election outright, the party will be under added pressure to deliver more consistently on its election promises.

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