When New Zealanders head to the polls on Saturday they will decide whether to elect 61-year-old Judith Collins, leader of the center-right National Party — or give progressive 40-year-old Ardern a second term as Prime Minister.
“There’s an expectation that it’s Labour’s election to lose,” said Claire Timperley, a New Zealand politics lecturer at Victoria University in Wellington.
It’s fair to say that Collins has taken on a challenge.
She’s the third leader of her party this year, taking the job three months before the election (her predecessor only lasted 53 days). More importantly, she’s up against Ardern, one of New Zealand’s most popular Prime Ministers — ever.
Ardern’s approval ratings soared during the coronavirus pandemic
after her government took early measures to contain the outbreak, including announcing a nationwide lockdown when there were only 102 confirmed cases
. New Zealand has reported 25 coronavirus deaths.
Covid-19 has loomed large this election, with an outbreak in August delaying polling by a month.
A record number of people have cast their vote early, with experts saying that the
high level of early voting was likely due to Covid-19 fears. As of Wednesday, more than 1.6 million people
, or 46%
of enrolled voters, had already voted at polling booths around the country, including Collins and Ardern.
And Covid-19 featured heavily in election debates. Ardern has pitched her party as a strong, stable government that can keep people safe. Collins argues that her pro-business party is better placed to handle the pandemic’s economic fallout.
Crusher vs kindness
In some ways, the two women who could be New Zealand’s next Prime Minister couldn’t be more different.
Ardern has built a reputation for not dabbling in dirty politics and won praise around the world for her empathetic responses to crises, including the 2019 Christchurch mosque shooting
that left 51 people dead. She’s a former Mormon
who emphasizes kindness — her book published this year is called “I Know This to be True: Jacinda Ardern on Kindness, Empathy and Strength.”
Collins, meanwhile, is a practicing Christian
known for her tough policies and sharp quips — and is no stranger to controversy. She resigned
from her role as Justice Minister in 2014 after allegedly being involved in a campaign to undermine
the then-director of the Serious Fraud Office, but was later exonerated by a government inquiry. “I’m really grateful that the truth has come out,” she said at the time, according to a Radio New Zealand report
She was also accused of a conflict of interest after visiting the Shanghai offices of dairy company Oravida, which her husband was a director of, during a taxpayer-funded ministerial trip to China. Collins said she would be more careful
about the risk of potential conflicts of interest in the future. Her book, also released this year, sums up the difference between the two leaders nicely: it’s called “Pull No Punches: Memoir of a Political Survivor.”
CNN reached out to both Ardern and Collins, but was not granted interviews prior to publication.
Collins grew up in rural New Zealand, in a tiny settlement called Walton only a short drive from Ardern’s hometown,…