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Congratulations, New Zealand

Published in Insights, The New Zealand Initiative’s newsletter, 20 October 2017

Almost a month after the election, New Zealand is about to have a new government.

Yes, other countries take longer to negotiate coalitions. But it was the uncertainty arising from parallel negotiations which made our post-election haggling an agony. It is good it is over.

Congratulations to Prime Minister-designate Jacinda Ardern. Coming out of relative obscurity, she had promised the campaign of her life. She delivered it. Ardern first gained her party the support of almost 37 percent of voters and then also of Winston Peters. She can take credit for one of the most astonishing turnarounds in political history and now has a parliamentary mandate.

Labour has made it clear that solving the housing crisis will be at the top of their agenda. We could not agree more. We are glad Labour has adopted many of our housing recommendations. But we also hope that the new government will tackle the inequality in education outcomes and reform local government. If they still need any ideas, they can find them in the Initiative’s Manifesto 2017.

Congratulations, too, to outgoing Prime Minister Bill English. Many commentators had written him off after his bruising defeat in 2002. He, however, returned strong and determined. As Minister of Finance, he was the policy master of the National-led government since 2008.

As Prime Minister, running for a historic fourth term, English secured a strong election result of over 44 percent. This success did not translate into a mandate thanks to the MMP electoral system. But it remains his achievement after a spirited, and often single-handed, campaign.

New Zealand owes English a debt of gratitude. Without him, New Zealand would not have weathered the storms of the Global Financial Crisis and our natural disasters as well as it did. A look across the Tasman reveals how different our public finances would have looked under less competent management.

English also deserves credit for one of the most innovative policy ideas in recent times. The Social Investment Approach may still be in its infancy but this whole-of-government strategy of tackling social problems early has great promise. The new government should build on it.

Ardern and English deserve praise for their dignified statements last night. When they paid respect to each other, there was no doubt they meant it. Both enjoy a reputation of being personally decent and grounded. Their genuine humility in victory and defeat respectively underlined it.

New Zealanders can be proud that after an agonising month of politics, our political culture eventually delivered a dignified transition of power. It is testament to the strength and vitality of our democracy and institutions.

So congratulations, New Zealand. And our best wishes to the new government. Its success will be New Zealand’s

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