Election 2020

Politicians clash over Covid’s election impact

As the Government mulls how the latest Covid-19 cases might affect the September 19 election, party leaders are stepping forward with their own opinions about how the news changes the campaign - including Judith Collins calling to delay the election. 

Political leaders have sparred over the impact of new Covid-19 community cases on the upcoming election, with claims Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern could abuse her platform to give the Labour Party an advantage.

The dissolution of Parliament, set down for Wednesday, was postponed after news of the cases in South Auckland broke.

While most political parties have suspended their campaigning for the time being, the fate of the September 19 general election is still up in the air.

Speaking to media on Wednesday morning, Ardern said the Government was seeking advice from the Electoral Commission about potential approaches to the election, “just so we make sure we have all those options available to us”.

Earlier in the year, the Prime Minister appeared reluctant to delay the vote, but a new outbreak much closer to polling could change the equation significantly.

National Party leader Judith Collins this afternoon called on Ardern to push back the election, saying it wasn't possible to have a free and fair vote under the current circumstances.

She said she would be sending a letter directly to the Prime Minister to make the request. 

"We are calling on the Prime Minister ... to shift out the election date to a date later in November."

If that weren't possible, she could instead delay it to next year, Collins said. 

She also expressed disappointment with what she said was a lack of transparency from the Government over the new cases of community transmission. 

Former National leader Simon Bridges was also among those to question the propriety of moving ahead as planned, describing a September 19 election as “problematic”.

“I’ve just cancelled public meetings and a lot of volunteers doorknocking,” Bridges said on Twitter.

“Meanwhile, Labour, while suspending campaigning, continues with all machinery of Govt and thus the power of the airwaves.”

New Zealand First leader and Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters arrived at Parliament in his campaign bus, clearly disappointed at having to suspend his campaign.

“We don’t intend to let it derail this campaign. Quite the converse … stand back and watch,” Peters said.

“It is very disappointing, but the other side of the equation is everybody is in the same boat.”

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters brought his campaign bus to Parliament after suspending campaigning, but that did not stop him from having a crack at the Opposition. Photo: Lynn Grieveson

The temporary halt to political events didn’t stop him from taking a crack at National Party leader Judith Collins for her reported criticism of the Government over the regional lockdown in Auckland and move to Level 2 elsewhere.

“[Her criticism is] careless and irresponsible and not befitting of somebody with legal training and some experience in the law.”

Peters was coy on whether the election date should be moved, but said that was a decision for parties on both sides of the House to make – not just those in government.

In April, he told RNZ the country wouldn’t be ready for an election in September and it should be pushed out to November. 

“I’ll leave it to you to come to that conclusion about whether it was sound advice from the word go,” he said on Wednesday of his earlier stance.  

Peters went further than Ardern on mask wearing and said Taiwan had managed to get on top of the virus by making them compulsory, with US$500 fines for people who did not wear them on public transport.

“I’ve argued for it since day one. That’s why I’ve got a whole lot of them [masks] in my bag,” he said.

“When you’re going out in the community, where you’ve got any chance of spreading or catching the malignancy, we should be wearing masks.”

“You cannot have an election when voters and people running for Parliament are effectively under house arrest.”

ACT leader David Seymour said while there were legitimate questions to be asked about how the latest community cases had come to be, now was “clearly not the time for finger pointing”.

Seymour said the only antidote to anxiety among business owners and citizens was for the Government to be as transparent and open as possible in explaining its decision-making process, including what criteria would have to be met if the country was to move down levels on Friday.

“People who are in business and people who are trying to run their households were bottomed out and starting to recover - they are now devastated by not just three days, which is manageable, but the uncertainty that this may not just be three days.”

Now is not the time for finger-pointing but for transparency, said ACT leader David Seymour. Photo: Lynn Grieveson

While the Electoral Commission has previously outlined contingency plans to hold the election under Level 2 conditions, he believed it would be impossible to have a “free and fair election” if the country was at either Level 2 or 3 heading into next week, given the chilling effect on campaigning.

“You cannot have an election when voters and people running for Parliament are effectively under house arrest.”

Abusing the prime ministerial pulpit?

Asked about the suggestion from National that the Government knew more about a Covid outbreak than it had let on, Seymour said politicians needed to be constructive and take people at their word.

However, he suggested Ardern should not “use the prime ministerial pulpit to secure the re-election of the Labour Party” through daily press conferences, instead using Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield to outline objective Covid-19 information and other government ministers to make announcements related to their portfolio.

“I think it’s reasonable to get through the 72-hour period [of initial lockdown], but if the plan is for the Labour leader and the Prime Minister to be the same person all the way through to the election, I think most New Zealanders would say that is unacceptable.”

Seymour denied his own political motivations were behind the suggestion, saying it would be “prudent” for the Government to ensure Ardern was not the sole face of its Covid response given the impending election.

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