New Zealand’s parliament has adjourned ahead of the September 19 election, setting the stage for a ferocious six-week campaign.
On paper, re-election appears a certainty for Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s Labour.
Ms Ardern enjoys the benefit of incumbency in a conservative electorate; not since 1975 has New Zealand tossed out a first-term government.
Her popularity skyrocketed after a lockdown to prevent the spread of COVID-19, producing stratospheric numbers for Labour.
Still, firebrand leader Judith Collins – installed last month after the surprise resignation of Todd Muller – is talking tough and believing the unlikely is possible.
Taking aim at Ms Ardern’s international adoration, Ms Collins unleashed a verbal barrage in their final parliamentary duel before hitting the road.
“She is going to be more famous than usual and that is going to be because she will be a one-term Labour leader,” Ms Collins pledged, to roars on both sides of the chamber.
“The last one was Bill Rowling and, good for her, she’s about to join him.”
Ms Collins is a conservative favourite and feared by Labour strategists as a wily campaigner and a strong media performer.
The 61-year-old damns Ms Ardern with faint praise, calling her a good communicator to have run a dysfunctional government that hasn’t delivered on key projects.
“This is going to be an extremely important election,” Ms Collins said.
“It’s about who is going to be best able to manage what has been described by the New Zealand Reserve Bank as the biggest economic downturn in 160 years.
“And what did I hear from the leader of the Labour Party? A whole lot of pixie dust and talking about how everything’s just going to be fine.
“The prime minister may wish to give us all a ‘sweetness and light’ talk but actually it’s time for reality.
“There’s one way to take charge of life – two ticks blue.”
Ms Ardern – labelled “stardust” by former prime minister Bill English as another attack on her credibility – predicted a campaign of mud-slinging from the other side.
“During this campaign, there will be lots of sprinkling of dust and glitter and whatever else we may choose to call it,” she said.
“There’ll be lots of shoveling of other figurative things. None of that will ever diminish what this government and these three parties and these leaders have achieved.”
The PM retorted by tallying legislation passed by her government; more than the the preceding four.
Despite Labour’s busy legislative program in government, they’re yet to reveal any policies for the 2020 poll.
Ms Ardern is running a small-target strategy, desperate not to spook voters away given their winning position.
And while New Zealand’s main two parties battle it out for the prime ministership, government parties NZ First and the Greens are trying to hang on.
Both are in precarious polling positions, with the Greens polling just above, and NZ First below, the five per cent threshold needed to guarantee a parliamentary return.
Parliament’s fifth party, one-man liberatarian force Act, has been tipped to swell in number.
There appears little chance of other micro-parties forcing their way in, though the Maori Party believe they are a strong chance of an upset win in at least one of the seven Maori seats.