New Zealand to Be Led by Jacinda Ardern, 37, Returning Left to Power

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October 20, 2017 9:09 am Published by

The announcement that a coalition had been formed came after a tumultuous campaign in which the National Party won 56 seats — more than any other party — but failed to capture the 61 needed for a parliamentary majority to govern in New Zealand’s political system.

In the Sept. 23 election, the center-left Labour Party won 46 seats, and its left-leaning allies the Greens won eight, giving the left bloc a total of 54.

The close result set off a scramble between the two groups to win the favor of New Zealand First, a populist party that won nine seats — enough to put either National, or the Greens and Labour, over the line in forming a government.

In the kingmaker position was New Zealand First’s leader, Winston Peters, an eccentric veteran politician who has long campaigned on cuts to immigration, curtailing foreign ownership of New Zealand land, and securing pensions and other benefits for retirees, who make up a large percentage of the party’s base of support.

While those issues were not at the forefront of political debate ahead of the election, they were thrust front and center after the vote as both major parties spent the last month wooing Mr. Peters with policy proposals.

Mr. Peters, 72, has been in this position twice before: once in 1996, in a coalition with National that fell apart two years later, and in a coalition with Labour in 2005. He has a famously truculent relationship with the news media and remained tight-lipped throughout the coalition negotiation process, leaving analysts speculating about whom he would anoint as prime minister.

In throwing his support to Ms. Ardern, Mr. Peters said, “It’s time for capitalism to regain its human face.”

The New Zealand First leader kept the country guessing for weeks about whom he would support, keeping it secret until the minute he took to a podium at the Parliament building Thursday. He revealed he had told neither Ms. Ardern nor Mr. English of his decision before announcing it.

Ms. Ardern took control of the Labour Party in July after its leader, Andrew Little, quit amid dismal poll numbers. She enjoyed a wave of attention for her charisma, for her youth, and for condemning a television commentator’s question about whether employers have a right to know whether a woman plans to become a parent.

During the campaign, she emphasized issues including child poverty, environmental management and housing affordability.

The campaign was raucous, at least by the standards of New Zealand, a prosperous member of the Commonwealth that has largely been spared the divisive debate over migration that has roiled its larger neighbor, Australia.

Mr. English, a former finance minister, had taken the reins of the country in December after his predecessor, John Key, unexpectedly resigned, citing a desire to spend more time with his family. During the campaign, Mr. English emphasized the party’s stewardship of the economy, which has recovered strongly from the financial crisis that was underway when the National Party swept to power in 2008.

Before Ms. Ardern captured Labour’s leadership, the party had cycled through five leaders since the last Labour prime minister, Helen Clark, lost the 2008 election. None of those leaders managed to cut into National’s popularity — which was buoyed by New Zealand’s strong economy — but Ms. Ardern’s call for change and youthful energy invigorated her party, winning it new supporters.

After discussing its role in the new government, the Green Party said it would not be a formal part of the Labour-New Zealand First coalition but would lend its votes to help the government pass laws. Some of its lawmakers will become government ministers.

Correction: October 20, 2017

A headline with an earlier version of this article attributed an erroneous distinction to Jacinda Ardern. As the article correctly noted, she will be New Zealand’s youngest prime minister in more than 150 years, not the youngest ever.

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