Days after a new wave of coronavirus infections hit New Zealand, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern Monday announced that the country’s general election, originally scheduled for September 19 this year, would be postponed by four weeks to October 17.
In a news conference, Ardern said, “Ultimately, the 17th of October … provides sufficient time for parties to plan around the range of circumstances we will be campaigning under, for the electoral commission to prepare and for voters to feel assured of a safe, accessible and critical election.”
On the new date, New Zealanders will also vote on two referendums – one on personal cannabis consumption and the other on euthanasia.
The latest coronavirus wave in New Zealand
New Zealand, a country of 50 lakh people, has been praised for its effective handling of the coronavirus pandemic, recording a total of 22 deaths and around 1,600 overall infections.
On August 9, the South Pacific nation marked 100 days since it stamped out the spread of the virus. For many, life returned to normal as sports stadiums were packed and bars and restaurants were open. The only new known cases were travellers returning to New Zealand, and these were quarantined at the border.
However, after fresh cases were reported in Auckland, the city was placed under lockdown for two weeks on August 12. The 58 new infections are believed to be in a cluster, but authorities are yet to determine their origin.
Auckland, home to a third of New Zealand’s population, is an important battleground for Ardern’s Labour Party, which has been running a coalition government since 2017.
Ardern, who is New Zealand’s third female Prime Minister, enjoyed a surge of popularity in late March for her handling of the pandemic, but could now face greater scrutiny as cases have returned. Opinion polls continue to predict a second term in office for Ardern.
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Rescheduling the New Zealand election
After the Ardern government imposed the Auckland lockdown and halted political campaigning, opposition parties sought a delay of the national vote.
In New Zealand, the Prime Minister is the sole authority that can decide on moving the election date, and has the power to delay polls by about two months. Ardern, who could have extended voting day until November 21, said on Monday that she would be postponing it by four weeks, and would not be considering any further extensions.
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The decision, taken after consultations with all parties in the country’s parliament, is expected to cause logistical issues, such as ensuring that election workers would be available on the new date.
Around the world, authorities have chosen to postpone elections in the wake of the pandemic. Hong Kong’s Legislative Council vote has been postponed by a year, and many US states moved primary contests for this year’s presidential election.
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