New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern does what Trump threatens, delays country's election due to Covid-19

Jacinda Ardern, a popular leader, decided to defer the September polls by a month as the pandemic resurfaced in New Zealand — something that Trump would struggle to replicate in the US

                            New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern does what Trump threatens, delays country's election due to Covid-19
Jacinda Ardern and Donald Trump (Getty Images)

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who was praised world over recently for her leadership in the battle against the Covid-19 pandemic, has delayed the country’s election until October 17 after the outbreak resurfaced. New Zealand has witnessed a community outbreak of the disease after 102 days and the leader decided to defer the election in a response to calls from the opposition and Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters, leader of the nationalist New Zealand First Party.

Ardern's decision would certainly boost supporters of President Donald Trump to see the November 3 election postponed for the same reason. New Zealand was supposed to go to the polls on September 19. On Monday, August 17, Ardern announced the new election date in a news conference and said: "I want to ensure we have a well-run election that gives voters all the information they need... and delivers certainty for the future."

"I do need to provide certainty, a sense of fairness and a sense of comfort to voters to ensure them that this will be a safe election," she added. The 40-year-old Ardern, a Labour Party leader, said she had spoken to all the political parties that are represented in the parliament to get their views before coming to the decision. She also said that lawmakers would now be called back to parliament which had concluded its sitting ahead of the poll. The legislature will now continue with its operation through early September. It will be dissolved on September 6 under the new schedule. 

The rising cases of coronavirus and deaths caused by it have put President Donald Trump in a serious spot ahead of the 2020 election (Getty Images)

Ardern has support across the spectrum, Trump doesn't

Ardern has not only been supported by the opposition parties but also the general public of the country as one poll showed that 60 percent of them were against the idea of holding the polls in September. In the US, the opposition is in no mood to see the election getting deferred and suspect such a move would be nothing but one to shield the embattled commander-in-chief.

Constitutionally, it has been cited that the president has little power to defer elections and Trump cannot stay in office beyond the stipulated tenure of its first term which ends on January 20, 2020. Last month, Trump hinted at something similar but it earned him a backlash, even from his own Republican Party, forcing him to clarify that he never wanted to defer the election.

The constitutional scenario in New Zealand

Graeme Edgeler, a Wellington-based barrister said in a piece in The New Zealand Herald that PM Ardern’s decision has to do more with the political than constitutional. He said the leader's power to recommend the governor-general to dissolve the parliament and hold the elections depends on whether the office-holder has the confidence of a majority of the lawmakers.

And Ardern, according to Edgeler, has the confidence of a majority of the MPs and hence can ask the governor-general to dissolve the parliament and hold the poll. Trump, on the other hand, clearly lacks that political consensus behind him. The US is not a parliamentary system where a "collective profile" prevails over an individual and with the president himself being a deeply polarizing and controversial figure, it is not surprising that an intention to delay the election will be seen through the eyes of suspicion.

Trump's presumptive Democratic opponent Joe Biden has alleged that the former could try to postpone the polls as a political strategy and warned that he would be removed from the White House by the military in case he didn't want to accept an adverse election result.  Trump has been strongly critical of the idea of holding a mail-in ballot for the November 3 election, alleging it would lead to a less-than-accurate election, but it has received solid support amid the pandemic which has affected 5.4 million people and claimed 170,000-plus lives in the US, making it the worst-affected nation in the world.

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