NZ election 2020: Jacinda Ardern and Judith Collins make final push to persuade voters

By Eleanor Ainge Roy and Charlotte Graham-McLay in Auckland

Political leaders in New Zealand put in a frantic final day on the campaign trail before Saturday’s vote, with Jacinda Ardern, the Labour leader and prime minister, making a whistle-stop tour of shopping malls in the largest city, Auckland, where she was greeted by hundreds of fans who clamoured for selfies.

It was a more muted day for Judith Collins, the leader of centre-right opposition party National, who opted for a handful of events with party volunteers and reporters as she made a last attempt to poke holes in Ardern’s track record. A final poll on Thursday showed Collins’s party languishing about 15 points behind Labour.

At South City shopping mall in Manurewa, Polynesian hip-hop blared out from oversized speakers, prompting a phalanx of Labour supporters to welcome Ardern with an impromptu dance.

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Ardern’s partner, Clarke Gayford, joined her for the last day of campaigning, but he was ejected to the edge of the crowd as Ardern was swamped by fans, pulling her into their arms and shouting words of thanks for her efforts on containing Covid-19.

Benjamin Ioata, 18, said Ardern was a good prime minister who was “doing her job properly”.

“Whatever she does, she does it with pride – she looks after us,” he said.

After a slow warmup early on in the campaign, in the final week Ardern’s energy has ramped up, and she looked practised as she made her way slowly around the malls.

Labour Party leader Jacinda Ardern meets supporters at on the final day of campaigning in New Zealand’s election.
Labour Party leader Jacinda Ardern meets supporters at on the final day of campaigning in New Zealand’s election. Photograph: Hannah Peters/Getty Images

On Thursday night, in a surprise admission, Ardern said that if she lost the election she would give up leadership of the Labour party and leave politics.

Asked by reporters what her plans were if she left politics, Ardern refused to be drawn, saying it was too early to write her obituary, and also ignored questions about how her wedding planning was going.

Labour had fallen one point to 46% but National also fell one to 31% in the 1 News Colmar Brunton poll. The centre-left Greens and libertarian ACT both sat on 8%, and the populist party New Zealand First polled below the threshold to enter parliament.

For each political hopeful, it was their last chance to persuade voters; New Zealand imposes a blackout on all campaigning on election day . It seemed an increasingly quaint tradition in 2020 as about half of the country’s 3.3m enrolled voters had already cast ballots since polls opened in early October while the campaigns were still in full swing.

Collins – upbeat in the face of the latest poll and a chequered week on the campaign trail – held a news conference on Thursday at the site of a government-promised light rail project which has yet to begin.

She said the project’s failure was part of an “unbelievably poor” record of the Labour-led government.

Judith Collins holds a National party hoarding at an intersection on Auckland’s North Shore.
Judith Collins holds a National party hoarding at an intersection on Auckland’s North Shore. Photograph: Charlotte Graham-McLay/The Guardian

Eschewing public walkabouts, Collins ate lunch with campaign volunteers before making joining a group acting as “human hoardings” at a busy North Shore intersection.

About 30 volunteers chanted “Judith! Judith!” as she arrived, clad in mirrored sunglasses and a National-branded windbreaker.

She hoisted a hoarding aloft yelling: “This is the last day we can do this,” as passing cars tooted in support. About five minutes later, Collins hugged volunteers and was gone, in what was her final scheduled event for the election campaign.

There have been murmurs among her party that she will not remain as leader if her party loses Saturday’s vote, but Collins told reporters that she was confident that she would still be the party’s leader next week.

After she left the intersection, most of the Judith Collins cut-outs were stacked away at the side of the road, volunteers instead favouring signs promoting their local National party candidates.

Also out stumping for votes were the leaders of the country’s minor parties, who in New Zealand’s parliamentary system are often called upon as government coalition partners.

James Shaw, the co-leader of the left-leaning Green party, appeared at bars around Wellington, pulling pints and helping at pub quizzes late into Thursday evening. And he was back behind a barista machine first thing on Friday morning as he served up flat whites to the capital’s coffee connoisseurs.

“I hope it tastes better than it looks,” Shaw told one customer.

The last burst of energy on the campaigns came in contrast to an at times lifeless election period that often dragged, partly because the vote was delayed by a month due to a Covid-19 outbreak in the largest city, Auckland, and partly because the campaign was largely devoid of drama or scandal.

On Thursday, the Facebook page of the minor party Advance NZ – which has campaigned on opposing Covid-19 restrictions and claimed that the virus was a hoax – was deleted from the social networking platform for repeatedly breaching the tech company’s rules.

“We don’t allow anyone to share misinformation on our platforms about Covid-19 that could lead to imminent physical harm,” Facebook told RNZ.

The party was not expected to win enough votes to enter parliament.