Monday, July 22, 2024

Ricardo Lagos’s column: Jacinda Orton and New Zealand, another way of doing politics

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New Zealand may have been a distant country for Chileans in the past. Not anymore. Today we have direct flights, more than seven thousand young Chileans have stayed there for over a year using “working holiday” visas, we have a digital economy agreement with Singapore, and finally, our ratification of the TPP11 has been deposited. There, precisely, the dialogue between New Zealand and Chile at the beginning of the 21st century has its origins.

For all this, we were most impressed by the country’s future when Jacinda Orton became Prime Minister in 2017, becoming the world’s youngest ruler at 37. With an empathetic, direct and innovative leadership style, he has placed New Zealand at the center of political conversations. For this reason, his resignation made an impression on us too, showing signs of wisdom and political integrity. His announcement aside made headlines around the world and allowed him to reposition his Labor party for the upcoming October election.

Jacinda Ardern was a star in international politics during her five years as head of the New Zealand government, where she represented 21st-century centre-left values. A defender of pluralism and tolerance, she raised the flag for feminism and action on climate change. After winning re-election in 2020 his cabinet became the most diverse in his country’s history, with 40% women, 25% of Maori descent and 15% from the LGBTQ community. First a mother and then a minister, she will make history as the first head of state to address other world leaders at the United Nations with a newborn baby in her arms.

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New Zealand consists of two main islands and other adjacent countries, has a population of 4.4 million and is one of the most geographically isolated developed countries. Inhabited from its origins by the Maori people, it became a British colony in 1840 and that racial coexistence has determined it to this day. But there is one important landmark in its history: it was the first country in the world to give women the right to vote in 1893.

At the dawn of the 21st century, under the leadership of Helen Clark, New Zealand embarked on an unprecedented process of opening up, whereby the country, though small, gained political and economic influence in the Asia Pacific region. From his feelings as a member of the Labor Party, he toured Latin America in his youth. So, when he visited Chile on the occasion of my inauguration in March 2000, it was a very significant event for both countries. We knew each other because in 1997 we were both part of the Socialist International Commission headed by Felipe González. This made it easier for the two in government to craft a bilateral free trade agreement, but when Singapore and Brunei joined, it became the P4. It was signed in 2005 and shortly after, President George Bush expressed interest in joining. Long haul, then retirement with Trump, and eventually what we have today: a TPP11 march on.

What does that mean for us? Finding a country in New Zealand saw the possibility of alliances with others, transcending the size of its market, opening up to the world, and taking an active role in the geopolitical landscape.

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Jacinda Orton followed that path. During this nearly six-year tenure, he translated his beliefs into actions. He is a leader who has shown the world how new generations wield power: direct and live the horizontality that new technologies allow. That was reflected in his resignation announcement. Frankly, he recognized the personal and political wear and tear he had experienced in office, hence the need to renew leadership within his coalition, and prioritized his personal life as well. “I know what this job demands,” he told an emotional press conference, “and I know I don’t have the strength to do it justice.” He left the mission amid applause from all his fellow citizens. Everyone knows that his image will not leave the political arena: many more years await him.

New Zealand and its former prime minister embody values ​​we should feel closer to as we look to the 21st century rather than the hegemonic dimensions of the past. She brought youth, her ability to adapt to an environment that changes faster than we can often assimilate. From there, he knew how to open up to the world who he was in order to participate in international geopolitical work.

In a way, New Zealand grew up in Australia’s shadow, always looking towards London. But when he realized that respect and good co-existence among its citizens was its strength as a country, he knew how to break away from that brand. They have organized a strong and efficient public service system; They have created a concrete identity, which is an example and, in this sense, an inspiration for New Zealand Chile. The preservation of democratic values, unfettered respect for human rights and the search for consensus – the only truth for modern societies – is part of the recipe for the archipelago’s emergence as a protagonist in the world’s ordering. Across the Pacific, here in the global south, Chile and New Zealand have a lot to share, especially when it comes to creating societies that are open to everyone’s imaginations and abilities.

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