How covid affected Jacinda Ardern’s legacy as New Zealand prime minister

Opinion

SYDNEY – Jacinda Ardern was on a business trip to a northern New Zealand beach town a year ago when her car was suddenly surrounded by anti-vaccination protesters. Some workers called the prime minister a “Nazi” and chanted “shame on you” after being forced to take the corona virus vaccine. Some shout obscenities. When a car tries to block Arder’s exit, her van is forced to drive across the street to escape.

Ardern laughed it off when asked about it a few days later.

“Every day in this job, you have new and different experiences,” she said. “We are in an unusually strong environment for New Zealand at the moment. I believe that will pass over time.”

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern resigned before the election

A little over a month later, however, protests outside parliament against mandatory vaccinations came straight back into flames. Demonstrators set fire to their own tents and gas canisters. Protesters hurled similar stones at police, on which Ardern and other politicians had been scrawled with a warning: “We will hang them up.” More than 120 people were arrested.

This time, he didn’t criticize Ardern. Instead, she looked angry and shocked.

“One day, it will be our job to try to understand how a group of people succumb to such beastly and dangerous misinformation and disinformation,” she says.

Ultimately, New Zealand’s new era of tough talk and dangerous misinformation will overtake Ardern, who announced her resignation on Thursday after more than five years in power.

“I know what this job requires,” the 42-year-old said in an emotional resignation speech. “And I know I don’t have enough in the pool anymore to do it justice.”

Ardern did not comment on the protests or extremist rhetoric or the threats she has faced. But she mentioned the corona virus outbreak. And in many ways, her handling of the health crisis was her greatest achievement, but it also made her divisive in New Zealand.

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“I think it may be her greatest legacy,” said epidemiologist Michael Baker, who served as an external adviser to the Ardern government at the time of the outbreak. He likened Ardern to Winston Churchill in the 1945 election when he defended the United Kingdom after losing World War II.

“It’s hard to even think about going through such a dangerous threat for so long,” he said. “There was a deep bitterness towards the experience people went through at the end, and unfortunately, even though she did an extraordinary job, it was directed at her to some degree.”

Although tourism is one of New Zealand’s biggest industries, Ardern acted quickly when the outbreak began, closing her country’s borders to foreigners. That decision, coupled with strict quarantine requirements and lockdowns to bring New Zealand back, kept the country corona-free until early last year.

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When the virus hit New Zealand, most adults were vaccinated. As a result, the country of about 5 million people has recorded fewer than 2,500 Covid-19 deaths – the lowest Covid-related death rate in the West, according to Johns Hopkins University.

New Zealand’s death toll is still so low that fewer people have died than normal, Baker said.

For two years, the charismatic Ardern has been the global face of “Zero Covid”, an approach that has drawn praise from other countries and also seems to have fostered a style of governance based on personal understanding. She called New Zealanders “our 5 million team” in the fight against Covid.

But that sense of team unity in 2010 By the end of 2021, Ardern has been seen introducing requirements for certain types of workers to be vaccinated and proof of vaccination to enter gyms, hairdressers, events, cafes and restaurants.

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“Many lives were saved from a public health perspective, but it came at a political cost,” Baker said. Contributing to the strengthening of the anti-vaccination movement was the fact that some groups claimed government ‘rights violations’.

The same policies that made New Zealand and its prime minister a zero-covid success have made Ardern a lightning rod for anti-lockdown and anti-vaccine lies.

“She was such a global and public symbol that she became the focus of many of the attacks,” said Richard Jackson, professor of peace studies at the University of Otago.

He added: “Their opinion was that she was destroying New Zealand society and bringing in a ‘communist regime’, yet the whole world seemed to be applauding and applauding her.” “It pissed the hell out of them.”

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Protesters followed Ardern around the country when she visited a primary school dubbed the “murderer” for a similar incident in the South Island just weeks after the van incident in Paihia on the north coast in January last year. By protesters waiting outside.

At that time, hundreds of anti-incumbency and anti-vaccine protesters gathered on Parliament Square in Wellington. Some mocked Ardern the wrong way or put up signs comparing her to Hitler. Others hung banners commemorating the January 6, 2021 attack on the US capital.

The rise of extremist rhetoric and unfounded theories in New Zealand has been fueled in part by far-right movements in the United States and Europe, Jackson said, including scholars such as Tucker Carlson, who often target Ardern. The Prime Minister himself called it “a style of foreign protest that we have never seen in New Zealand before”.

After the protesters became increasingly violent, including throwing faeces at some police officers, officers in riot gear in 2010 On the morning of March 2, they started clearing the Parliament premises. Some protesters fought back and turned their camping equipment into incendiary devices.

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“Thousands of lives have been saved today on the front lawn of Parliament by your actions as New Zealanders over the past two years,” Ardern reminded people.

New Zealand police battled protesters as tents burned, Parliament camp cleared.

But in the view of some, the time has brought a great change for the country.

“The level of people supporting violence, people threatening to hang politicians, that’s not New Zealand’s political tradition,” he said. Alexander Gillespie, Professor of Law at the University of Waikato.

In the year “It was a huge shock to the country,” said Jackson, who described the riots that erupted in 1981 when the South African rugby team visited South Africa during apartheid. “I think it finally brought home to everybody, like what we think of as moderate and peaceful and tolerant politics has ended, and now we have a more violent, polarized and extreme” atmosphere, he said.

The vitriol continued even after her announcement on Thursday: A bar owner in Nelson posted a photo of a doctor in a wood chipper, Ardern, being towed by an earl, but took it down after receiving complaints.

In recent months, Ardern’s widespread popularity began to slip. The Labor Party, which achieved a great and historic victory two years ago, is now second in the polls and is expected to lose this year’s election.

Like Churchill, Ardern led her country through dark times, but eventually lost public support exhausted by the crisis, Baker said.

But the decision seems to have lifted the weight off the Prime Minister’s shoulders. She told reporters on Friday morning that she “slept well for the first time in a long time.”

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