Culturally driven political reform finds favour with core voters

A variegated crowd were gathering outside the winner PM’s house on election night. Probably, a sky full of stars was lighting over the party. Hundreds of people, different faces, ages and stories.

A few dozens of them were kids, there to celebrate the political victory. From the house, fish bites and venison patties were coming out in big trays to be dispatched to the media troupes and residents. An intense scent of BBQ mixed with conviviality and genuine joy filled the air.

Looking at the news, we are constantly bombarded with many stories from around the globe that deeply question political legitimacy. The wound cuts through our trust in governments and institutions, ever deeper. Brexit, back-sidling of democratic values, pandemic mismanagement, economic recession and still too many ongoing conflicts, often just hidden in the background.

2020 was characterised by worldwide protest with social justice and inclusiveness as subject matters. Someone, somewhere, is fighting against systematic racism. There are the ones who are using their voices to oppose an authoritarian regime. While, others are reuniting to strive against the deterioration of certain sets of values that should be at the core of a progressive and ethical society.

Although lots of countries seem to have been sucked into this negative circle of pain and disbelief, there is one that appears to emanate as a shining beacon of hope and inspiration…And that is Jacinda Ardern’s New Zealand.

“I can promise you: we will be a party that governs for every New Zealander” declared the progressive leader in her victory speech, CNN reported.

During the Coronavirus pandemic, New Zealand was the successful model that every nation was aiming for. Jacinda Ardern came out as a winner. However, her “politics of kindness” was already in action from her first mandate in 2017. While her goals, they have always been wider.

The historic result of the October 17th elections see Ardern’s centre-left party winning 64 parliamentary seats out of 120, the best outcome the NZ Labour party has reached in five decades. The new parliament is set to be the most inclusive ever: many young faces, 10% of LGBTQ+ members and a high number of women in charge. There are MPs from different ethnicities and backgrounds. A burst of fresh air over the rotten stagnation that is immobilising lots of political establishments worldwide.

Who are some of these new entries into Kiwi politics?

Sarah Pallet, a rural midwife from Christchurch, shocked everyone when managed to tear the Ilam seat away the conservative Gerry Brownlee who had avidly kept it for 24 long years. He is unlikely celebrating at the moment. Another woman, Dr Ayesha Verrall is thought to be the favourite candidate as new Minister of Health. An infectious disease physician who is extraneous to the political world. Despite her lack of administrative experience, she has been one of the key scientific advisers during the Coronavirus pandemic.

Ibrahim Omer, a former Eritrean refugee, is the first African MP to enter the NZ parliament. With a background as a workers union activist, he is aligned to give a voice to unheard communities. Another first timer, Vanushi Walters became New Zealand’s first Sri Lankan-born member of the Cabinet. Class 1981, she is a human rights lawyer just at the start of her political career.

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Amongst these many victories, possibly the one which has been the most significant for a great part of the country, Nanaia Mahuta has been announced to become the next Minister of Foreign Affairs, making her the first Māori woman to hold the role. Indigenous people have been at the side of the political game for far too long. Mahuta brought Māori voices to trade, international relationships and intellectual property issues.

As Carrie Stoddart-Smith, indigenous trade and economies consultant, argued “her appointment is more than the face she presents.

It is the values and legacies she will carry forth onto the international stage. It is the remembering of our tīpuna. It is the ‘everyday acts of cultural resurgence’ in the forums we’ve been denied a voice for far too long.”

Even though the Labour Party has the number for ruling alone, Ardern is looking for sharing the honour with the Green Party in order to expand citizens consensus. The Greens, former Labour ally, won 10 young and diverse seats in parliament with the last elections. A face of new Zealand’s youth who has a strong focus on social equity and environmental issues.

As we have seen, the NZ administration is characterised by fresh and young members. Haters could point out that the lack of previous political experience could undermine the parliament’s efficiency, especially in a such delicate moment as the current situation. Well, let’s look at Jacinda Ardern herself. She jumped into the global scene in 2017 as the youngest female prime minister of the whole world at the age of 37. Now, three years later, she is a progressive leader with a special care for women’s rights, equity and inclusivity.

This new political asset has already started to produce the first outcomes. In conjunction with the general elections, Kiwis were told to express their opinion about two important topics: the legalisation of euthanasia and recreational cannabis.

The euthanasia referendum was a success. About 65% of the population voted in favour of the End of Life Choice Act stipulated in 2019.  New Zealand happily joins progressive countries like Canada, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Belgium where euthanasia was already authorise in certain given situations.  The new law appears to be, also, another victory for the Māori community, who are more likely to become terminally ill because of genetics and other reasons.

Unfortunately, the recreational use of cannabis did not get the same consensus and lost with only 46% of citizens who voted to approve the legislation.

Kindness, equality, tolerance and care for the environment are at the core of New Zealand political project. Many people around the world would love to have a leader like Jacinda Ardern. The future challenges are big, though. The post-Covid economic recovery will be the final test for the innovative political direction that the nation decided to pursue. New Zealanders have left their trust again in her hands, now it is her turn to demonstrate that they were right.

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