In a victory speech to hundreds of cheering supporters in Auckland, Ardern said her party had received more support from New Zealanders than at any point in at least 50 years.
“This was not an ordinary choice and it is not an ordinary time,” she said. “It was full of uncertainty and fear, and we wanted to be an antidote to it.”
Ardern promised not to take their new followers for granted and to rule for all New Zealanders.
“We live in an increasingly polarized world, a place where more and more people have lost the ability to see each other’s point of view,” she said. “I think in this election New Zealanders showed that this is not who we are.”
A record number of voters cast their ballots early in the two weeks leading up to the election.
During the campaign, Ardern was greeted like a rock star by people who huddled in malls and took to the streets to cheer her on and take selfies with her.
Her popularity rose earlier this year after successfully trying to eradicate the coronavirus. Currently, the nation of 5 million has no community spread of the virus and people no longer need to wear masks or social distancing.
The 40-year-old Ardern won the top job after the 2017 elections when Labor formed an alliance with two other parties. The following year she gave birth as the second world leader in office.
She became a role model for working mothers around the world, many of whom viewed her as a counterpoint to President Donald Trump. And she was commended for her handling of the attack on two Christchurch mosques last year when a white supremacist shot and killed 51 Muslim worshipers.
It went quickly to pass new laws banning the deadliest types of semi-automatic weapons.
At the end of March this year, when only about 100 people tested positive for Covid-19, Ardern and her health officials put New Zealand on a strict lockdown under the motto “go hard and go early”. She closed the borders and outlined an ambitious goal of eliminating the virus entirely, rather than just trying to control its spread.
Since New Zealand had the advantage of being an isolated island nation, the strategy worked. The country suspended community broadcasts for 102 days before a new cluster was discovered in Auckland in August. Ardern quickly imposed a second ban in Auckland and the new outbreak disappeared. The only new cases found recently were of returning travelers who are in quarantine.
The Auckland outbreak also caused Ardern to postpone the election for a month and helped increase voter turnout.
National Party leader Judith Collins is a former lawyer. She served as Minister when National was in power and prides itself on a blunt, matter-of-fact approach that contrasts with Ardern’s empathic style. Collins, 61, pledged major tax cuts in response to the economic downturn caused by the virus.
Speaking to her supporters in Auckland, Collins said she called Ardern to congratulate her.
“It’s an outstanding result for the Labor Party,” said Collins. “It was a tough campaign.”
Collins promised the party would be back to fight another day.
Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters and his small New Zealand First Party also voted in the elections. The ACT libertarian party increased its support to 8% and the Greens gained 7.5% of the vote.
Labor Secretary David Parker said it was a landslide victory for his party. “It is a tremendous honor first and foremost for the prime minister, but also for the wider Labor team and the Labor movement,” he said.
In the election, voters also had a say on two controversial social issues – whether marijuana and euthanasia should be legalized. Polls before the elections showed that the euthanasia referendum is likely to take place while the outcome of the marijuana vote remains uncertain. The results of both referenda will be announced on October 30th.