JACINDA ARDERN’S staff ran into a problem after she declared New Zealand free of the coronavirus in June. It was impossible to keep the prime minister on schedule, they griped, because she was constantly mobbed by supporters. Patrons jumped up to applaud her when she went out for dinner. Passers-by hung out of car windows to yell their thanks. At the convention of her party, Labour, one eulogiser declared her “our nation’s saviour”.
Even after a modest resurgence of the disease, New Zealanders continued to commend Ms Ardern for averting the worst. She closed their borders to foreigners and rallied a “team of 5m” (ie, everyone in the country) to support one of the toughest lockdowns in the world. As a result, New Zealand has seen only 25 deaths from covid-19. Many voters, says Ben Thomas, a former government staffer under the opposition National Party, feel that Ms Ardern has “literally saved them”.
All this puts the prime minister on track for a big victory in an election on October 17th. The latest polls suggest that Labour may win 47% of the vote, which would give it 59 seats in the unicameral parliament. It needs 61 seats in the 120-seat chamber for an outright majority—a feat never achieved since New Zealand adopted a proportional voting system in 1996.
Either way, Ms Ardern will be in a far stronger...