WELLINGTON • With promises of extra financing for small businesses and more jobs as a severe economic downturn looms, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern yesterday launched her party’s campaign ahead of September’s general election.
Ms Ardern’s rise to become New Zealand’s most popular prime minister in a century, buoyed by her response to the Covid-19 pandemic that has left the country largely unscathed, has boosted her prospects in the Sept 19 election.
Ms Ardern’s Labour Party, governing in a coalition with the Green Party and the nationalist New Zealand First party, will face the National Party in what is expected to be a pandemic-dominated campaign.
If the Prime Minister’s high ratings are mirrored in the election results, Labour would govern on its own, without needing a coalition.
The government’s early and tough coronavirus curbs that paralysed economic activity have put the country in a technical recession for the first time in a decade.
“There wasn’t a playbook for Covid,” Ms Ardern said at the Labour Party congress. “There wasn’t a playbook for the recovery.”
She added: “I can’t think of a time in our recent history when we have been collectively challenged by such a cruel combination of events – a terrorist attack, a volcanic eruption, a global pandemic and now its ensuing financial crisis.”
Her leadership, widely seen as compassionate and steely – after last year’s killing of 51 Muslim worshippers in the country’s worst mass shooting, and after the December eruption of a volcano that killed 21 – has brought Ms Ardern worldwide admiration.
Meanwhile, the government will again extend an interest-free loan programme for small businesses as part of its economic stimulus as the country charts the post-coronavirus recovery, said Ms Ardern.
The Small Business Cashflow (Loan) Scheme, which the government already extended once to late this month, will now be available until the end of the year, the Labour leader said at the annual congress.
As many as 90,485 small businesses have applied through the loan programme for more than NZ$1.51 billion (S$1.38 billion) since May 12, the country’s Revenue and Small Business Minister Stuart Nash said in a separate statement.
Small and medium-sized enterprises generate about a third of New Zealand’s gross domestic product.
Ms Ardern last Thursday lost a key aide when the country’s embattled Health Minister David Clark resigned after security slip-ups at Covid-19 quarantine facilities.