As New Zealand prepares for its first election in three years, the gloomy atmosphere signals a shift away from Jacinda Ardern’s diverse, progressive-left administration, which she led for five years.
The former prime minister, who stepped down in January, had star power and a kind of “progressive” politics that garnered her fans throughout the world despite her declining popularity at home.
Her successor, Chris Hipkins, has had to deal with an increasingly irritated and frustrated electorate, as well as the pandemic’s lingering effects and a suffering economy.
According to political scientists, the clearest evidence of public pessimism has been a poll question on New Zealand’s future, to which a majority is now answering negatively: “They feel the country is on the wrong track,” Lara Greaves of Victoria University of Wellington told the BBC.
Speaking to voters in Auckland’s largest city this week, “the economy’s cooked” or some form of that is frequently repeated.
Caption for an image, Freya claims that many of her friends cannot afford to continue their education and have dropped out.
“It’s recession vibes,” said Freya, a 20-year-old architecture student who works two retail jobs to make ends meet. She considers herself fortunate to be able to live in Mount Roskill with her family, but she knows “plenty of people” in her working-class neighbourhood who dropped out of university to put food on the table.
“No one is really spending, costs are rising, and the living wage – it’s not even a living wage, it’s insane.” Money just rushes out these days because everything is so pricey.”
New Zealand Households Struggling With Debt
Despite the fact that New Zealand’s economy is comparable to other developed nations, “people don’t really think it’s doing better than the rest of the world because they are hurting,” according to local economist Brad Olsen.
“Households are struggling, so that dominates the conversation,” he says, citing Infometrics statistics. Households are spending NZ$240 ($144; £117) more per week on the same necessities, while food inflation peaked at 12% this year following Cyclones Hale and Gabrielle.
According to him, New Zealand’s protracted housing crisis has also pushed home ownership out of reach for the younger generation, while those who did buy homes in recent years are now need to pay an extra NZ$30,000 for their mortgage due to interest rate hikes.
This election, both major parties have proposed plans to fatten wallets. Labour promises to reduce the 15% tax on fresh fruits and vegetables, while the center-right National Party promises income tax cuts and other business-friendly reforms.
Economists are sceptical of the measures, yet they are popular with voters. Nonetheless, few believe these will solve the underlying problem.
New Zealand, which long marketed itself as being on the edge of the world, is at the bottom of a supply chain that has been aggravated by the war in Ukraine and the slowing economy of its major trade partner, China.
Caption for media,
Increased crime and gang violence
Along with economic issues, many residents are concerned about an increase in crime and gang violence. Although not represented in official data, reports of “ram raids” – in which criminals use a vehicle to smash their way into a store – and burglaries ranging from diamond stores to corner shops, known as dairies in this country, have filled newspapers and social media feeds.
“It used to be really safe here, peaceful,” recalls Aman Singh, 29, a cab driver who migrated to New Zealand over a decade ago and became a citizen. He recalled a farm burglary last year in which assailants severed the owner’s fingers.
He adores the country, but plans to relocate to Australia at the end of the year, where his money will go further and there will be more opportunities.
A prevalent tendency these days is the departure of young people and immigrants from New Zealand to its larger, more prosperous neighbour.
“A lot of people around me have moved overseas to Australia or the United Kingdom because everything feels sluggish and slow here.” “The priority doesn’t appear to be so much about moving forward,” Antonia Brightwell, 22, said.
Last year, she pondered leaving, but opted to stay: “I’ve assessed the importance of sticking where I am and just dealing with things.” She stated that she was voting for parties that would benefit her family’s companies.
Antonia’s main fear was what her future will be like in a “currently in the trenches” economy.
“I know we’re still coming out of what happened with Covid and just trying to get back into that,” she said, but the recovery had been too sluggish.
New Zealand’s rigorous Covid response
Even Labour voters concur. There has been significant disappointment that Labour, which earned a rare majority in New Zealand’s proportional system in 2020 under Ardern and has historically created multi-party governments, was unable to achieve more. Several cabinet scandals have also harmed the party’s image this year.
“I feel like they haven’t really achieved that much, or generated that much money,” said Freya, who backed Labour but questioned the slow recovery in tourism.
New Zealand’s rigorous Covid reaction, which includes border closures from March 2020 to August 2022, was widely praised. According to a recent scientific report, the policy saved 20,000 lives.
However, lockdowns and longer restrictions pushed locals to their breaking point, according to Associate Prof Greaves.
These organisations have also made their presence felt in this year’s election. Polls reveal that support for both major parties has dwindled, while a fringe anti-establishment movement promoting a nastier tone of discourse has surged.
Polls indicate that Chris Luxon’s National Party will be the largest party.
Act, a libertarian party formerly sent to political exile with less than 1% of the vote, has been a loud challenger this year.
According to some polls, it has returned to grab up to 10% of the market. National, led by Chris Luxon, has also indicated a willingness to form a coalition government with the party whose leader has attacked Mor representation in parliament and been accused of ethnic dog-whistling.
New Zealand First, a populist party, also appears certain to return, with current polls indicating that leader Winston Peters will hold the balance of power in Saturday’s vote. If no coalition agreement can be reached, a second election may be called.
Mr Peters defected to Labour in 2017, allowing the party’s then-new leader, Jacinda Ardern, to form government. Few anticipate him to return to the left.