New Zealand stands together as the world burns

New Zealand stands together as the world burns

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STUFF

Labour came out with a huge initial lead and never let it go as the votes came in. Here’s how election night unfolded.

OPINION: As the world burns, we’ve stood together. New Zealand should be proud of the election, no matter the result, writes Laura Walters

It’s hard to stop watching Belarus. The idea that a torturous bully can refuse to let go of power in 2020 is unconscionable.

Watching the people demand genuine democracy, it’s possible to simultaneously feel a swelling of pride for those who refuse to give up, and nausea at the police batons raining upon unarmed protestors.

It’s hard to comprehend a reality where two passionate and capable women can vie to become the Prime Minister in New Zealand, while female politicians in Belarus are being told to “go back to the kitchen”.

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In a place that feels a little closer to home, the scene is set for an unacceptable election result. When Donald Trump overstates voter fraud and says mail-in voting is flawed, he knowingly fuels distrust in democratic systems – and his population’s faith is already shaky.

Add Covid-19, paranoia, and conspiracy theories and it’s no surprise we live in an increasingly polarised world.

Labour Party leader Jacinda Ardern said Aotearoa was ‘too small to lose sight of other people’s perspectives’.

Hannah Peters/Getty Images

Labour Party leader Jacinda Ardern said Aotearoa was ‘too small to lose sight of other people’s perspectives’.

But in 2020, while the world has been burning around us, Kiwis have stuck together.

We’ve turned out in droves to exercise our democratic right by voting early and often, and we have made it clear what we expect of our political leaders.

As Advance NZ and the Public Party have shown, New Zealand is not immune to conspiracy theories and we know we can do dirty politics, especially at election time.

But the polarisation we see across the world has not penetrated New Zealand in quite the same way.

“Elections aren’t always great at bringing people together, but they also don’t need to tear one another apart.”

STUFF

Jacinda Ardern claimed a “mandate to accelerate” in her victory speech following Labour’s landslide win.

When Jacinda Ardern delivered her victory speech, she spoke about governing for every New Zealander.

“We are living in an increasingly polarised world. A place where more and more people have lost the ability to see each other’s point of view.

“I hope that this election, New Zealand has shown that this is not who we are – that as a nation, we can listen, and we can debate. After all, we are too small to lose sight of other people’s perspectives,” she said.

“Elections aren’t always great at bringing people together, but they also don’t need to tear one another apart.

“And in times of crisis, I believe New Zealand has shown that.”

We have seen this throughout the election campaign, and again on election night.

That doesn’t mean there wasn’t politicking, some stretched truths on tax and child poverty, or a few ignorant comments on the campaign trail.

But largely there was mutual respect.

Both Ardern and Judith Collins debated each other on policy rather than personality, no matter how different their viewpoints. Even Winston Peters and David Seymour conducted themselves with dignity throughout the campaign proper.

When Collins delivered her concession speech, she did so graciously.

STUFF

National Party leader Judith Collins concedes the 2020 election to Jacinda Ardern and the Labour Party in a landslide defeat for her party.

“I believe it is an outstanding result for the Labour Party.”

Rather than reaching for excuses or apportioning blame, she was reflective. She thanked supporters, volunteers, staff and MPs for their loyalty and hard work, and she apologised to those who would not be returning to Parliament for failing to deliver the party vote they needed.

“Even though tonight has been a very tough night for us all, and the campaign a very tough campaign, three years will be gone within a blink of an eye. And I say to everybody: we will be back.”

When Judith Collins could have reached for excuses or insults, she was gracious and reflective in defeat.

Speaking of her life outside of Parliament, Ardern says she wants to continue to change politics.

Jacinda Ardern, in her victory speech, said elections did not need to tear the country apart.

Hannah Peters/Getty Images

Jacinda Ardern, in her victory speech, said elections did not need to tear the country apart.

“I want young people to look at this place and say you can do positive things and it doesn’t have to be about mud slinging.”

The first US presidential debate between Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden showed the mud in full swing. It showed us exactly what we don’t want to become.

During a small but significant moment in the final leaders’ debate, Collins and Ardern were asked what they wanted to say to each other.

They both used it as an opportunity to show compassion and common empathy, when they could have gone a different way.

Ardern thanked Collins for her speech in the House after the March 15 terror attack. She said it was sincere and authentic: “I found it particularly powerful.”

Jacinda Ardern and Judith Collins in the final leaders debate.

Phil Walter/Getty Images

Jacinda Ardern and Judith Collins in the final leaders debate.

Collins acknowledged the weight Ardern placed on her position as Prime Minister.

“Anyone who takes on the job of Prime Minister has to put their heart and soul into it, and Jacinda has been doing that, and I think that’s a really good thing.”

These are the types of responses Kiwis would have expected from the two major leaders. But it’s not the response we would have expected from many other politicians around the world.

We expect more of our politics, and so more is what we get.

We expected more from our leaders in the wake of March 15, and we expected more through Covid-19.

In this year’s election we expected more than division and derision, and we will continue to do so.

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