New Zealand Socialist PM Jacinda Ardern Receives Warm Welcome From Joe Biden In Washington

President Joe Biden welcomed socialist New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to the White House on Tuesday to discuss economic ties, gun control, and “space exploration” — but not, reports indicated, Ardern’s decision to use Chinese coronavirus measures to delay the 2020 New Zealand election…

Discussions surrounding a potential delay in elections gripped many countries around the world that year, including the United States, where then-President Donald Trump received stern condemnations from the left for suggesting changing the election date. Ardern followed through with what Trump had mused about, but received no similar criticism. Ardern’s New Zealand – though the election date change was later revealed to be against the wishes of the national Electoral Commission and significantly hindered opposition parties’ campaign – consistently ranks among the world’s most politically free states. Ardern used her election landslide in 2020 to impose even harsher lockdown restrictions, some of which a New Zealand court deemed illegal in April.

Biden’s meeting with Ardern on Tuesday morning began a series of bizarre exchanges for the president scheduled to continue with a meeting with Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell and another with South Korean superstar boy band BTS.

Ardern’s is the first visit of a New Zealander head of government to the White House since 2014.

While other countries organizing elections in which the heads of government complicate both the Electoral Commission’s role and the ability of rival parties to campaign – like Nicolás Maduro’s Venezuela or Vladimir Putin’s Russia, for example – have received condemnation from the Biden administration, the White House warmly welcomed Ardern.

“The two Leaders will discuss strengthening cooperation to support the Pacific Islands region, and our work together on a range of issues,” the White House announced last week, “including the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, addressing the climate crisis, and countering terrorism and radicalization to violence both off and online.”

New Zealand outlets also reported that Ardern would meet with Vice President Kamala Harris to discuss “gun control and space exploration.” Biden vowed to address Congress on limiting the constitutional right to bear arms in the United States during his public meeting with Ardern.

Ardern has become a champion of gun rights restrictions for the American left due to her policies significantly limiting gun ownership at home. Speaking at Harvard University last week, she defended limiting gun rights as a way to protect democracy.

“We knew we needed significant gun reform, and so that is what we did,” Ardern claimed. “But we also knew that if we wanted genuine solutions to the issue of violent extremism online, it would take government, civil society and the tech companies themselves to change the landscape.”

“For years it feels as though we have assumed that the fragility of democracy was determined by duration. That somehow the strength of your democracy was like a marriage; the longer you’d been in it, the more likely it was to stick. But that takes so much for granted,” she continued.

Coverage of Ardern’s ongoing visit to America has largely ignored the fragility of New Zealand’s democracy in the aftermath of Ardern choosing to reschedule the 2020 election and impose limits on free association.

Ardern, the former president of the International Union of Socialist Youth, secured a landslide “win” for her hard-left Labour Party in October 2020 after implementing draconian lockdown measures that limited mass gatherings and hampered political campaigning. The election was originally scheduled for September 19 but took place on October 17. Ardern received no pushback from opposition parties, many of which celebrated the move. The New Zealand Electoral Commission, documents later revealed, told Ardern that a delay was only possible with far more time in advance – a warning she ignored. The Commission asked Ardern to consider November 21 as an alternative date.

“Proceeding earlier than this does not give it sufficient time to re-standup advance and election day voting services,” the commission wrote to the prime minister, according to the national news outlet RNZ. “The impact will depend on the size and number of regions at higher alert levels, and the numbers in isolation or quarantine.”

“It also noted that at a higher alert level physical distancing would likely apply, meaning that voters would also experience longer wait times and that face-to-face engagement with voters, including for enrolment purposes, would also be significantly curtailed,” RNZ noted. “There was also concern that some people may be less willing to go to a voting place or even use a post box – decreasing voter turnout.”

Among other headaches the Commission faced thanks to the delay was the injecting of a wave of new voters into the mix – minors who turned 18 between September 19 and October 17 — and difficulties in preventing voter fraud. Following the election, the New Zealand Herald reported that officials had identified at least two cases of voter fraud, one police only knew about because the suspect, a social media user identified as “Tswizzle,” had bragged about casting multiple ballots online.

“There’s boxes for many electorates at each booth. I just went down the road and had another vote at another booth,” Tswizzle wrote on Twitter. “I voted yesterday and because our system is so slack and requires no ID I’m voting every day this week and twice on Saturday.”

Ardern had told voters nearly the exact opposite of the Electoral Commission’s warnings in announcing the date change, claiming that a “short delay” would help the Electoral Commission better prepare. “Moving the date by four weeks also gives all parties a fair shot to campaign and delivers New Zealanders certainty without unnecessarily long delays,” she vowed.

In reality, delaying the election both made the pandemic, the issue on wish Ardern generated the most public support, the paramount issue of the election and made a normal campaign nearly impossible.

Political analysts noted at the time that Ardern was facing growing discontent with her failure to follow through on expansive policies to relieve poverty and implement expensive social programs, but that many voters, fearing the coronavirus pandemic, had decided to shelve those concerns.

“It looked as though she was on course to be a one-term prime minister. Then, [Chinese coronavirus] turned everyone’s world upside down,” political analyst Josh Van Veen told the Washington Post at the time.

The post-delay reality meant that campaigns had to scramble for another month of financing and plans for campaign events and advertising.

“Parties are not required to publicly disclose their full financial position in New Zealand but several have asked supporters for cash to help them pay for staff and advertising over the new campaign period,” the news outlet Stuff observed in August. “National’s campaign chair Gerry Brownlee sent out an email on Monday night to supporters asking for them to chip in to help with “four more weeks of targeted advertising, phone calling, pamphlets, direct mail, and billboards.”

A longtime former Labour Party official told Stuff “there would be quite a bit of money spent on simply hiring people to work another four weeks, rebooking various advertising spots, and possibly more travel and accommodation for the campaign.”

“A lot of the advertising done so far will be essentially wasted, as parties will have phased their advertising thinking towards a September 19 date,” the ex-official, former Labour Party chief of staff Neale Jones, said.

The election rescheduling occurred after Ardern’s coronavirus restrictions had already made it difficult for polling firms to reach out to voters, Reuters noted in August 2020, when it incorrectly predicted Ardern would not change the election date.

“Forced to cancel campaign events due to restrictions on movement and crowds due to the health scare, the opposition has accused Ardern of using the pandemic to shore up support as she appears on television nearly everyday to reassure New Zealanders, while their own leaders struggle to draw audiences,” Reuters observed at the time.

In an extensive post-mortem on the failed National Party campaign, Stuff ultimately blamed the party’s incompetence on their historic loss, but not without acknowledging the extraordinary circumstances Ardern had created.

“The campaign was bruising. Labour launched on August 7, with a jubilant rally at Auckland’s Town Hall. Four days later, the race was on pause when a second wave of [Chinese coronavirus] was discovered and the city was locked down,” Stuff relayed. “Traditional campaigning was impossible and National was forced to cancel its launch, scheduled for the following weekend. The pandemic gave Ardern a public platform against which her rival could not compete.”

Freedom House described the 2020 New Zealand election as “well-administered and credible” in its 2021 global human rights report. ✪

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