In February, Jacinda Ardern’s Labour Party was down in the polls. Voters were expressing frustrations that her government had overpromised and underdelivered on major campaign issues such as inequality and housing. Some observers suggested that the New Zealand prime minister’s first term would be her last.
Then the pandemic happened. While many countries floundered over how to manage the public-health crisis, Ardern emerged as one of the few world leaders poised to not only curb the spread of cases, but eliminate the coronavirus altogether (and for 24 days, New Zealand did). With clarity, compassion, and competence, Ardern became the international standard-bearer for leading a country through this crisis. Thanks in no small part to that performance, New Zealanders rewarded her with a landslide victory in an election today. With 49 percent of the vote, Ardern’s Labour Party is projected to have an outright parliamentary majority—a first for any New Zealand party since the country moved to its proportional representation system more than two decades ago.
But the issue that appears to have bolstered Ardern’s premiership is the same one that might make her next term even more difficult. Not only does she have to continue her efforts to protect New Zealand from the worst of the pandemic, but she must now contend with what comes next—not least a historic recession and worsening inequality. In this way, Ardern’s victory foreshadows the challenge facing all world leaders in the months and years ahead: Though succeeding in the face of the pandemic is hard, dealing with its aftermath could be harder.