WELLINGTON—New Zealand’s prime minister postponed the country’s general election on Monday by a month to Oct. 17 as the city of Auckland remains under government lockdown in another attempt to eliminate the coronavirus.
Jacinda Ardern has been under pressure to put off the polls as political parties said it was impossible to campaign in a way that would ensure a free and fair election.
“Ultimately, the 17th of October … provides sufficient time for parties to plan around the range of circumstances we will be campaigning under,” Ardern said at a news conference.
She ruled out delaying the polls any further.
“We are all in the same boat. We are all campaigning in the same environment,” Ardern said.
An early election works in Ardern’s favour, as her success in stifling COVID-19 and keeping the country virus-free for 102 days until the latest outbreak had added to her popularity.
The election was scheduled for Sept. 19 and New Zealand law requires it to be held by Nov. 21. Advance voting will now start on Oct. 3.
Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters, who had called for a delay, said “common sense has prevailed.”
The leader of the populist New Zealand First party delivered government to Labour through a coalition deal after no party won a majority at the 2017 election.
With a population of 5 million people, New Zealand has fared better in terms of the number of COVID-19 cases than most countries during the pandemic. But an abrupt resurgence of COVID-19 last week in Auckland prompted a lockdown, and there’s growing suspicion that the source of the spread was a quarantine facility.
The economic impact caused by the government’s decision to go into lockdown will take longer to assess.
On Friday, Ardern extended a lockdown for Auckland’s 1.7 million residents until Aug. 26, and social distancing rules are in place in other towns and cities. There are 69 active cases in the country.
“As we have said from the start, our overall COVID-19 strategy remains elimination,” she told the nation in a televised press conference. “Together, we have got rid of COVID before. We have kept it out for 102 days, longer than any other country. We can do all of that again.”
“Right now the focus must be on finding out exactly what failed so catastrophically at the border so we can be sure it won’t happen again,” National Party leader Judith Collins said on Twitter.
By Praveen Menon. The Epoch Times contributed to this report.