WELLINGTON, New Zealand — Jacinda Ardern took over as New Zealand’s opposition leader just three days ago, but already she has prompted a flood of donations, taken a stance for women in the workplace and transformed what had been a dull election campaign.
Whether her ascent will be enough for the liberal Labour Party to reverse its fortunes and mount a serious challenge to the conservative National Party when the general election is held in seven weeks is unclear. But few doubt the impact of the 37-year-old, who most people are now referring to simply as “Jacinda.”
On Friday, Ardern unveiled the party’s new campaign slogan: “Let’s do this.” She also promised to host weekly sessions on Facebook as part of a strategy to become more accessible. She plans a series of new policy initiatives on Sunday.
Ardern said there had been no time for focus groups to evaluate the new slogan. “We’ve tested it on ourselves, asked a few people. Certainly nothing that I would call rigorous or robust,” she said.
Ardern was the Labour Party’s deputy leader when she was thrust into the top job on Tuesday with scant notice after Andrew Little resigned, following a series of dismal opinion poll results. One poll indicated the party was supported by just 24 percent of voters.
Within a day, Ardern was twice asked by male television hosts about her plans for children. One host, Mark Richardson, questioned whether it was acceptable for the country’s leader to take maternity leave while in office, and said most employers would want to know the maternity plans of their workers.
Ardern, who has previously talked about the difficulties of juggling political life while also wanting to start a family, said she was happy to answer such questions, but others shouldn’t feel compelled.
“For other women, it is totally unacceptable in 2017 to say that women should have to answer that question in the workplace,” she responded, while pointing her finger at Richardson. “That is unacceptable.”
Her answers seemed to resonate with many people, some of whom pointed out that under New Zealand law, workplace discrimination on the basis of pregnancy is illegal. Ardern said she was surprised her comments were picked up abroad.
“I think it just demonstrates that it’s a live issue, beyond New Zealand’s borders,” she said. “As long as we can keep challenging views that are antiquated and have no place in New Zealand or anywhere else, then perhaps there will be something positive to come out of the discussion.”
Ardern has a background in policy development and is the former president of the International Union of Socialist Youth. She was first elected to Parliament in 2008.
Within three days of Ardern became leader, the party had accepted about 370,000 New Zealand dollars ($275,000) in donations. In New Zealand’s low-budget elections, that represents about one-third of the entire amount the Labour Party collected during its last election campaign.
The conservative National Party, on the other hand, collected much more during the last election, about NZ$4 million. The party has held power for the last nine years and looked to be cruising to another victory until Ardern’s ascension.
National Party lawmaker and campaign chairman Steven Joyce said he believes his party has better policies for New Zealanders and the boost the Labour Party is enjoying from its new leader won’t endure without policy changes.
“I’m always in anticipation of a fight, at every election, and this is no different from the last one,” Joyce said. “In fact, prior to this change, it was just too calm and too quiet.”