New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, a global icon of progressive politics, stunned the country on Thursday by announcing her resignation in only a few weeks.
The 42-year-old said she no longer had “enough in the tank” after leading the country through natural disasters, the Covid outbreak, and its worst-ever terror incident.
“I am human. We give as much as we can for as long as we can and then it’s time. And for me, it’s time,” she said at a meeting of members of her Labour Party.
Ardern announced her resignation on February 7, less than three years after winning a landslide election to secure her second term.
Ardern’s government has suffered since the pinnacle of “Jacindamania” in 2020, with its popularity weakened by increasing inflation, a projected recession, and a resurgent conservative opposition.
“I believe that leading a country is the most privileged job anyone could ever have, but also one of the more challenging,” Ardern said.
“You cannot and should not do it unless you have a full tank, plus a bit in reserve for those unexpected challenges.”
Ardern received international recognition for her compassionate handling of the 2019 Christchurch mosque shooting, which murdered 51 Muslim worshippers and injured another 40.
She was commended later that year for her decisive leadership during the deadly White Island (also known as Whakaari) volcano eruption.
She expressed pride in her government’s actions on housing affordability, climate change, and child poverty on Thursday.
“And we’ve done that while responding to some of the biggest threats to the health and economic wellbeing of our nation arguably since World War II,” Ardern said.
Ardern was featured on the pages of British Vogue and Time magazine, giving the impression that she was more popular overseas than she was at home.
She was a domestic powerhouse at one point, but her government has been progressively losing ground in polls over the last year.
“It’s about time. She’s wrecked the economy and food prices have skyrocketed,” said Esther Hedges from Cambridge on New Zealand’s north island.
“I’m not happy with her and I don’t know anyone who is,” the 65-year-old added.
Christina Sayer, 38, said Ardern was “the best prime minister we have had”.
“I like the type of person she is and she cares about people. I’m sorry to see her go.”
The stress of the job has been clear, with Ardern revealing a rare breakdown of decorum last month when she was unintentionally filmed calling an opposition lawmaker a “arrogant prick”.
Sam Neill, a New Zealand actor and Hollywood veteran, said Ardern was routinely harassed by “bullies” on social media.
“She deserved so much better,” he said in an online statement.
Ardern stated that the country’s next prime minister will be chosen in a general election on October 14.
She stated that she will continue to serve as a member of the electorate till then.
Her retirement creates a vacancy at the top of the Labour Party, with her deputy Grant Robertson quickly ruling out a leadership run.
Despite recent polls indicating that a center-right alliance is likely to win the election, Ardern stated that this was not the cause for her departure.
“I am not leaving because I believe we cannot win the next election, but because I believe we can and will,” she said.
“I am leaving because with such a privileged job comes a big responsibility. The responsibility to know when you are the right person to lead — and also when you’re not.”
Ardern became the world’s second prime minister to give birth while in office, following Pakistan’s Benazir Bhutto in 1990.
She stated that she was looking forward to spending more time with her daughter Neve, who will begin school later this year, as well as ultimately marrying her partner, TV personality Clarke Gayford.
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese led worldwide accolades to Ardern, saying she had “shown the world how to lead with brilliance and strength”.
“She has demonstrated that empathy and insight are powerful leadership qualities,” Albanese said.
The US ambassador to New Zealand, Tom Udall, said Ardern was an “incredible world leader”.
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