New Zealand Prime Minister Ardern calls September election

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern talks to reporters at Parliament in Wellington, New Zealand Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2020. Ardern announced the country’s general election would be held on Sept. 19. (AP)
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Updated 28 January 2020

New Zealand Prime Minister Ardern calls September election

  • The center-left leader on Tuesday announced Kiwis would go to the polls on September 19
  • The New Zealand economy has struggled under low growth, while the cost of living has risen

WELLINGTON: New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has called a general election for September, in a vote that will test whether her widespread popularity overseas is matched by support at home.

The center-left leader on Tuesday announced Kiwis would go to the polls on September 19, two months ahead of the last possible date for the ballot, when she will seek a second three-year term.

“I will be asking New Zealanders to continue to support my leadership and the current direction of the government, which is grounded in stability, a strong economy and progress on the long term challenges facing New Zealand,” Ardern said.

The 39-year-old’s first term won her international fame — she became a mother while in office and received praise for her sensitive handling of the Christchurch mosques killings and the White Island volcano tragedy.

But while she has been feted overseas, opinion polls show her standing at home has slipped.

Opposition leader Simon Bridges has led the center-right National party into more populist territory, attacking Ardern over a land dispute with Maori groups and attacking her gun buy-back scheme introduced after Christchurch.

Ardern has also come under fire for her party’s long-running KiwiBuild scheme, which was designed to make owning a home more affordable by constructing 100,000 homes, but has so far failed to match expectations.

Bridges reacted to the election announcement by pledging to lead a government that “will deliver” on its promises

“New Zealanders know we will get things done, whether it’s more money in your pocket, a stronger economy, less tax, building infrastructure and roads or keeping families safer from increasing gang violence,” he said.

The most recently published opinion polls, both produced late last year, showed Bridge’s National Party ahead but Labour, with its New Zealand First and Green Party allies could muster enough support to remain in power.

The election announcement comes just days before the government is to announce details of a NZ $12 billion ($7.85 billion) infrastructure spending package designed to stimulate the economy.

The New Zealand economy has struggled under low growth, while the cost of living has risen.

Finance Minister Grant Robertson said the infrastructure spend to be released this week will target roads, rail, schools and health care projects across the country.

ANZ Bank’s latest economic outlook said this would add to an “improved domestic outlook” and it expected the central bank to keep the official cash rate on hold at 1.0 percent for the foreseeable future.

The poll date avoids school holidays and All Blacks matches, which are said to have a bearing on election outcomes.


Indonesia declares state of emergency as coronavirus toll jumps

Updated 31 March 2020

Indonesia declares state of emergency as coronavirus toll jumps

  • Joko Widodo’s administration has been heavily criticized for not imposing lockdowns in major cities, including Jakarta
  • Indonesia’s leader offered few details of the state of emergency beyond calling for stricter social distancing

JAKARTA: Indonesian leader Joko Widodo declared a state of emergency Tuesday as coronavirus deaths in the world’s fourth most populous country jumped again, but he resisted calls for a nationwide lockdown.
Widodo’s administration has been heavily criticized for not imposing lockdowns in major cities, including the capital Jakarta, a vast megalopolis home to about 30 million people where most of the country’s virus deaths have been reported.
Indonesia’s leader offered few details of the state of emergency beyond calling for stricter social distancing, but announced $1.5 billion in beefed-up social assistance and subsidies for low-income workers.
Tens of millions eke out a living on poorly-paid jobs in Southeast Asia’s biggest economy.
“To overcome the impact of COVID-19, we’ve chosen the option of large-scale social distancing,” Widodo told reporters.
“We must learn from the experience in other countries, but we cannot copy them because every country has its own characteristics,” he added.
On Tuesday, authorities said 136 people had died after contracting the virus, with 1,528 confirmed cases of infection.
But the latter figure is widely thought to be well below the real number in the archipelago of more than 260 million.
The Indonesian Doctors’ Association has warned that the coronavirus crisis is far worse than has been officially reported and that the government’s response is “in tatters.”
Jakarta’s governor has said nearly 300 suspected or confirmed victims of the virus have been wrapped in plastic and quickly buried in the city since the start of March.
The capital’s top politician has been pushing for a total lockdown of the city.
Also Tuesday, Indonesia’s corrections agency said it is set to offer early release to about 30,000 inmates to help stem the spread of the virus in over-crowded prisons. The number amounts to more than 10 percent of Indonesia’s 272,000 inmate population.