When we last checked in on the Freedom Convoy in New Zealand, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was starting to play rough with the loud crowd camping out on the lawn at the Parliament building in Wellington. The protesters were being soaked with water from the sprinkler system and loud music was blaring at them around the clock. By that point, though, many people had gone home, leaving only a few hundred of them at the protest site.
It seems that the harassment of the protesters and the refusal of any members of Parliament to come out and discuss their complaints didn’t sit well with many of their countrymen. In the past couple of days, the number of people participating in the convoy has swelled back up to more than 3,000. In response, Ardern appears to be borrowing a page from Justin Trudeau’s playbook in Canada. She’s now accusing the protesters of engaging in a campaign of “intimidation and harassment” against pedestrians in Wellington and is preparing to take “a harsher stance” against the convoy. (Associated Press)
New Zealand’s prime minister on Monday said protesters who oppose coronavirus mandates were using “intimidation and harassment,” as authorities appeared to take a harsher stance toward the convoy of demonstrators that has disrupted the capital of Wellington for nearly a week.
Police initially let the protesters set up tents and camp on the grounds of New Zealand’s Parliament before arresting 122 people on Thursday and then backing off again. The size of the protest dropped to a few hundred last week but increased again to around 3,000 over the weekend.
Speaking with reporters, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern signaled the thinning patience of authorities.
What hasn’t been made clear yet is precisely what Ardern specifically plans to do in terms of “cracking down” on the convoy. Last week the police were sent in and they arrested a little over 100 people. But now those one hundred protesters have been replaced by 3,000 more. Does Wellington really have the manpower to arrest and relocate that many of its citizens?
The New Zealand Police have a grand total of roughly 12,000 sworn officers, but they are spread out over more than 300 precincts on multiple islands. Certainly, the force in Wellington would be among the largest, but the number of sworn officers there may already be outnumbered by the protesters taking part in the convoy. Their military, the New Zealand Defense Force, only has 10,000 active duty members in uniform, though they can call up more if they are needed. Would Ardern really unleash the military on her own citizens just for protesting?
There was a time when I would have found that question rather silly. But now, after watching the response from Justin Trudeau in Canada, I’m not entirely sure. Governments around the world are waking up to the fact that “the little people” actually have a great deal of power when they band together in sufficient numbers. And this is making many leaders quite nervous. Keep in mind that democratic nations only rule by the consent of the governed. If that consent is withdrawn, things can get unpredictable very quickly.
Much like other leaders in the United States, Canada, and Europe, Ardern is trying to paint the protesters as some sort of right-wing, fringe minority that “isn’t representative of the people of New Zealand.” But if that’s the case, there’s one question we should all be considering. If you assume that the Freedom Convoy only represents a tiny portion of the population that’s opposed to COVID mandates and everyone else is grateful for them, where are the massive counterprotests in support of Ardern and her policies? Shouldn’t they be showing up to defend her “wise” administration?