It’s pretty commonplace now to observe that Prime Minister Ardern is doing well overseas but tanking at home.
That’s now a commonplace problem of many stronger democracies worldwide to look great as leaders on tv or Facebook but be increasingly unloved by their citizens.
Democratisation itself has suffered more and more reversals since early 2020, with the percentage of people living in a democracy falling to well below 50% and authoritarian regimes gaining ground. Leadership non-performance is a key part of this decline.
In the UK’s most recent elections, the British had to choose between a fool (Boris Johnson) and a flake (Jeremy Corbyn).
In the United States the Democratic choice was barely functioning Biden or the Trump Republican raging radical right. Both now poll as bad as each other.
In France the blunt centrist Emmanuel Macron is now beset by a hard left-green coalition (Jean-Luc Melenchon) or Marine Le Pen from the hard right. Macron is still the most impressive politician in Europe, but that’s saying little.
In Canada, Prime Minister Trudeau now relies on the left’s New Democratic Party to keep him delivering through to 2025.
Germany replaced Angela Merkel (now fully exposed as leaving Germany dependent on Russia and militarily ill-prepared), with Olaf Scholz who has managed to split European unity against Putin often and badly, even as Europe faces its gravest threat in nearly 80 years.
Australia’s new Prime Minister Albanese is now hit with a serious and massive electricity production crisis, and his Minister is already enforcing powers not used in over 20 years. Governments have fallen for less.
So Ardern is not alone leading a democracy but not delivering well.
It is in the even more imperfect democracies of South America that something new is being tried, with leftist administrations starting up in Chile under Gabriel Boric, Gustavo Petro in Colombia, Bolivia’s Luis Arce, and odds on for Lula to win again in Brazil in October next year. Xiomaro Castro in Honduras and Andrew Obrador in Mexico’s Obrador must also be mentioned as leftie reformers.
It is of course right for voters to be impatient and change governments if it is their view that they are not performing.
Conversely, some anti-liberal democracies like Poland are now the most generous proponents of accepting Ukrainian refugees by the multiple million. That’s despite all their deeply conservative and regressive moves against judges and other key institutions. Left-leaning European countries aren’t stepping up.
When otherwise stable and prosperous governments don’t deliver, democracy itself is weakened in the medium term. It is non-democratic institutions like NATO that will start looking like they are more effective than democracies in achieving what citizens need, and that is chilling.
Our NZ Labour government is the first under MMP to have an absolute majority. It has plenty of money to spend. It is crisis match-fit. It has zero impediments to achieve anything it wanted. It is also dying on its feet, just trying to revive.
Ardern must live up to the promise she gave us all. Or else Ardern will be consigned to be yet another of the left-leaning global leaders of developed countries who helped corrode democracy itself. It is how democracy is weakening right the world over.