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article imageKiwi PM faces domestic woes as 'Jacinda-mania' goes global

By AFP     Oct 1, 2018 in World

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and baby daughter Neve charmed the world in New York during last week's UN General Assembly, but pundits say her government's lustre has started to fade back home after almost a year in power.

"Jacinda-mania goes global" trumpeted Kiwi pop culture website The Spinoff, saying Ardern had been embraced "as a beacon of hope for our troubled world".

For the head of a small, remote nation of just 4.5 million people, Ardern enjoyed an extraordinarily high profile at the global meeting.

The centre-left leader, who won power in an election upset late last year, graced talk show host Stephen Colbert's couch, met with celebrities such as Anne Hathaway and shared parenting tips with the panel of NBC's Today Show.

Part of her appeal was undoubtedly the presence of "first baby" Neve, born in June when Ardern became only the second female prime minister in the world to give birth while serving in office, after Pakistan's Benazir Bhutto in 1990.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern enjoyed an extraordinarily high profile at the global meet...
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern enjoyed an extraordinarily high profile at the global meeting in New York
TIMOTHY A. CLARY, AFP

"Images of a baby and her mother in the UN general assembly are historically significant," Victoria University political analyst Bryce Edwards wrote after photographs of Ardern kissing her daughter in the UN Assembly Hall went viral.

The infant's presence provided Ardern, 38, with ample anecdotal fodder on the chat show circuit but also added heft to her passionate advocacy for gender equality.

Political commentator Martyn Bradbury said the sight of Ardern addressing the UN while partner Clarke Gayford looked after Neve "reset the brand that is New Zealand".

Ardern's repeated calls for action on climate change and more compassionate political discourse prompted TVNZ to label her "the anti-Trump", while Stuff website said her words to the UN "directly challenge the view of the world outlined by US President Donald Trump in his speech there earlier this week".

- 'Plenty of chaos' -

But while Ardern projects a can-do image of youthful vigour overseas, her policy initiatives have been stymied on several occasions back home by coalition partner New Zealand First (NZF).

Ardern's Labour Party needs the populist NZF to govern, and its 73-year-old leader Winston Peters is not averse to undercutting her on issues such as law and order if he feels it will appeal to his electoral base.

Jacinda Ardern  Prime Minister of New Zealand speaks during the One Planet Summit at the Plaza Hotel...
Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand speaks during the One Planet Summit at the Plaza Hotel on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York
MANDEL NGAN, AFP/File

Ardern also faces difficulties within the Labour ranks, including sacking last month a cabinet minister who allegedly became involved in a physical altercation with a staffer.

The prime minister was forced to deny that the minister's departure -- the second in just a few weeks -- was a sign her coalition government was becoming unstable.

Dominion Post political reporter Andrea Vance said while the prime minister was away "there was plenty of chaos going on back home -- most of it right in the heart of Ardern's own government".

She said Ardern was not about to lose power over some "messy-but-minor beltway scandals" but they reinforced the fact that she is not longer regarded as a political cleanskin in her homeland.

"Politics is a grubby world," Vance wrote.

"Did we really believe Jacinda Ardern's government was going to rise above it?"

The New Zealand Herald's Claire Trevett said the New York trip had briefly allowed Ardern to recapture the optimism generated when she rose to prominence last year and she should make the most of her moment on the world stage.

"In New Zealand, she now has to deal with the same problems as any other prime minister with all the annoying side shows that brings, but she remains a breath of fresh air internationally," Trevett wrote.

"Whatever her domestic critics might say, that gives Ardern great leverage and some influence. And when a Prime Minister looks good, so does New Zealand."

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