New Zealand’s looming election could be delayed as the government battles to contain its latest COVID-19 outbreak.
The country was forced back into lockdown on Wednesday after four new coronavirus cases were discovered, after 102 days without a single community transmission.
Auckland, the country’s most populous city, was placed under Stage Three lockdown, forcing families to stay at home for 72 hours.
The rest of the country was placed under Stage Two restrictions – mandating social distancing and limits on the size of gatherings.
The move has thrown the general election, which is scheduled for September 19, into question, with several politicians calling for it to be delayed.
Opposition leader Judith Collins, who earned the nickname ‘Crusher’ for an initiative to crush the cars of criminals while police minister, said the lockdown made running a proper election campaign difficult.
‘It’s going to be very difficult to have an election in mid-September when we are now mid-August. It is very little time,’ she told the AM Show.
National MP Simon Bridges also expressed concern over the timing of the election.
‘Let’s be honest about how problematic a Sept 19 election in under 40 days is. I’ve just cancelled public meetings and a lot of volunteers doorknocking,’ he said on Twitter.
‘Meanwhile, Labour, while suspending campaigning, continues with all machinery of Govt and thus the power of the airwaves.’
Labour, National, the Greens, and NZ First have all suspended campaigning for now as contact tracing gets underway.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said no decision had been made on pushing the date back.
‘We’re seeking advice around the options of the issue of the election from the Electoral Commission, just so that we make sure we have all those options available to us.
She announced on Wednesday that parliament would not be dissolved until Monday to allow politicians to debate and deal with the crisis.
The dissolution of parliament is the first step towards holding the general election, which is scheduled for September 19.
The government and cabinet could have continued without parliament sitting, but it would have no way to pass new legislation if needed.
‘We’re giving ourselves as much flexibility as possible to deal with what we learn over the next 72 hours,’ Ms Ardern said.
‘We’ve therefore decided it would be prudent to defer the dissolution of parliament by at least a few days to preserve all options for, if needed, reconvening parliament or … the date of the general election.’
‘No decisions have been made, we’re obviously at the very early stages.’
Delaying the election by a few weeks would require consultation between the prime minister, the leader of the opposition and the chief electoral officer.
However, delaying it by months would require an amendment to the Constitution Act to allow Parliament to sit for longer.
According to the latest public polls, Ms Ardern was firmly on track to win a second term as prime minister.
New Zealanders applauded Ms Ardern’s lockdown back in autumn, sending Labour soaring in popularity.
It remains to be seen how Kiwis will see a second lockdown – they may see Ms Ardern’s government as responsible for new cases, or reminded of Ms Ardern’s impressive leadership during the initial crisis.