Sydney, Australia, Sep 6 (efe-epa).- Campaigning for New Zealand’s upcoming general elections, set to be held on Oct. 17, kicked off on Sunday after the polls were delayed by a month due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The elections come at a time when Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, seeking a reelection, has witnessed an unprecedented surge in her popularity due to her successful handing of the coronavirus crisis.
The campaign, which will be held under restrictions and social distancing measures linked to the pandemic, began officially on Sunday with a ceremony to dissolve the current parliament.
Last month the prime minister had decided to postpone the elections from Sep. 19 to Oct. 17 under pressure from her colleagues and the opposition after a fresh Covid-19 outbreak was detected in New Zealand’s most populous city Auckland.
Pollsters have suggested a clear lead for Ardern, leader of the Labour Party, with around 53 percent of the voters backing the prime minister’s reelection bid according to surveys released in August.
In 2017, Ardern had become the youngest prime minister of the country at the age of 37 after forming a coalition government with the Green Party and New Zealand First.
Her popularity surged both inside the country and abroad due to her firm and emphatic response to the March 2019 white supremacist terrorist attack on two mosques in Christchurch, in which 51 people were killed.
More recently, her handling of the pandemic has also been praised locally and internationally, including a strict lockdown in early March – when the country had just around 50 infections – that helped the country return to normalcy in the beginning of June.
As a result, recent ratings have suggested that the Labour Party could return to power even without its alliance partners, one of the reasons why Ardern was under immense pressure to postpone the polls from her colleagues, especially Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters, the leader of New Zealand First.
The New Zealand government imposed a lockdown in Auckland and raised the alert level and restrictions in the rest of the country on Aug. 12, two days after a small coronavirus outbreak was detected in the city. The outbreak came after a stretch of 102 days without any local infections being reported across the country.
The country, which has kept its borders closed since March, registered 5 new infections on Sunday, taking the total number of Covid-19 cases to 1,421, including 24 deaths. EFE-EPA