How Ardern won ‘greatest victory ever’
Jacinda Ardern's Labour Party has won the New Zealand election - and then some.
The party is predicted to have a majority of 64 seats in the 120-seat parliament, a feat rarely achieved.
The opposition National Party were humiliated, getting just 25 per cent of the vote after a campaign that was marred by a "litany of cock ups", as remarked by one former minister.
Despite that, leader Judith Collins cheerfully channelled Arnold Schwarzenegger and said, "We'll be back" after her crushing defeat.
One commentator labelled Ms Ardern's landslide result as "defying logic".
At times during her victory speech on Saturday night in Auckland, Ms Ardern seemed slightly perplexed about how well her party had done.
"New Zealand has shown the Labour Party its greatest support in at least 50 years," she said.
"We won seats we hoped for," she said before almost catching her breath, "and many that we didn't expect.
"And for that I only have two simple words: 'thank you'."
Labour had been expected to win - but not by this much.
A respected Television New Zealand poll had Labour on 44 per cent and National on 31 per cent.
That would have been a great result for Labour in anyone's books and likely would have led to a formal coalition with the Greens to get it across the line.
But with almost all the votes counted, Labour is on 49 per cent and National on a derisory 27 per cent.
NZ's mixed-member proportional representation voting system means majority government is unheard of.
Under MMP, introduced in the mid-1990s, Kiwis get two votes. One is a traditional vote for a local MP; the other is a "party vote" with these seats divided up based on share.
That has meant smaller parties like New Zealand First, ACT and the Greens have often been kingmakers.
'GREATEST VICTORY IN HISTORY'
In 2017, Labour came second but deals with NZ First and the Greens pushed them ahead of National to claim government.
Labour getting a majority was a mere pipe dream in 2020. Yet, here it is.
"This result defies logic because we bought in MMP so we wouldn't swing to the right or the left," said number cruncher Ryan Bridge of media outlet Newshub.
"The result says, who cares about MMP?"
New Zealand Heraldpolitical columnist Matthew Hooton, who was once on the staff of the opposition party, said it was the "greatest election victory in history".
While it might sound like hubris, he's probably right. No party has done this well under MMP.
"If you put together the left - Labour and the Greens - this is 58 per cent of the vote," he said.
"This puts Jacinda Ardern in the pantheon of historic New Zealand prime ministers".
HOW LABOUR DID IT
Just months ago, National were outpolling Labour and had been expected to topple the party. The massive turnaround has been put down to Ms Ardern uniting the nation during the pandemic which saw Labour's ratings soar.
The party was also helped by National errors. The opposition went through three leaders in a matter of months and were disunited.
Ex-National minister Chris Finlayson laid into his old party.
"The campaign was a litany of cock-ups," he told Newshub.
"That's what happens when you talk about yourself and not about the issues."
Labour prevailed by breaking out of its heartland seats - those in the urban centres of Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin plus the Maori electorates and a smattering of regional seats.
However, it has now prevailed in places such as Hamilton, Whanganui and New Plymouth.
It only lost one seat - the Maori electorate of Waiariki which was won by the Maori Party.
The PM said she would not take the huge show of support for granted.
"We will be a party that governs for every New Zealander. And governing for every New Zealander has never been more important," she said.
"Labour will lead for the next three years, and over the next three years there is much to do.
"We will build back better from the COVID crisis."
National, meanwhile, had losses across the board including the prestigious seat of Auckland Central that was picked up by the Greens.
In a gracious but not sentimental concession speech, Ms Collins said she had congratulated Ms Ardern.
"Boy did we know this was going to be tough," Ms Collins told the crowd.
Then she struck a more sombre note.
"New Zealand is facing a tough economic ride.
"It will need better fiscal policy then we have seen so far."
She ended on a bullish tone.
"Three years will be gone in a blink of an eye and I say to everyone, 'we will be back'. Bring on 2023."
DEPUTY PM LOSES
Maverick former Deputy PM and NZ First Winston Peters lost his seat.
Mr Peters was fundamental in delivering Labour government and Ms Ardern the top job in 2017.
The populist politician said he decided to side with Labour in 2017, rather than National who were then in power and who he had been expected to side with, to "shake up the status quo".
However, the vote of his party collapsed in 2020 and is currently at just 2.5 per cent, well below the 5 per cent minimum needed to get MPs.
He said the election, held against the backdrop of COVID-19, was "like no one we've ever seen".
"Three years ago we committed to be a constructive partner in government" he told the gathering.
Ms Ardern might not agree with how constructive Mr Peters has been given he pushed back against several Labour policies. But he was also a convenient person to blame if things went wrong, something a Labour majority government won't have the luxury of.
Ms Ardern said she had "huge respect" for her former Deputy PM.
"I hope he feels proud of what he contributed in the last three years. I certainly do."
GREENS COULD BE FROZEN OUT
The libertarian ACT was a big winner, jumping from one to ten MPs. The Greens will also likely nab another MP to get to 10.
But the Greens might be worried about Ms Ardern's speech - it failed to mention the party or any suggestion of a coalition or formal agreement.
Certainly the Greens would not be in a good negotiating position and would be hard pressed to demand much.
But Labour might not want to be too smug. Many commentators believe this could be a high water mark for Labour. Come the next election in 2023, it might need a coalition partner to govern.
It may want to keep the Greens on side, even if it doesn't strictly need the party right now.
At her speech at Auckland Town Hall, Ms Ardern seemed to be aware that many of her votes this time around came from people who would usually plump for other parties.
"Elections aren't always great at bringing people together; but they also don't need to tear one another apart.
"We live in a world where people have less time to see others points of view.
"This election shows this is not who we are. Let's step forward together".