New Zealander Ardern, an icon for many, resigns

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who has been praised around the world for her handling of the country’s worst mass shootings and the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic, said Thursday she would be stepping down from office.

Ardern faced increasing political pressure at home and a level of malevolence not experienced by previous New Zealand leaders. Still, her announcement came as a shock to people across the country of 5 million.

Fighting back tears, Ardern told reporters in Napier that February 7 would be her last day as Prime Minister.

“I’m entering my sixth year in office and I’ve done my best in each of those years,” she said.

Ardern became an inspiration to women around the world after first winning the top job in 2017 at the relatively young age of 37. She seemed to be heralding a new generation of leaders – she was about to turn the millennium and had spun a few records, was a part-time DJ and not married like most politicians.

For many, she was the opposite of US President Donald Trump.

In 2018 she became only the second world leader give birth during the tenure. Later that year, she brought her young daughter to the floor of the UN General Assembly in New York.

In March 2019, Ardern was one of the darkest days in New Zealand history when a white, racist gunman stormed two mosques in Christchurch, killing 51 people. She was widely praised for her empathy with survivors and New Zealand’s Muslim community in the aftermath.

Less than nine months later, she faced another tragedy when 22 tourists and guides were killed when the White Island volcano erupted.

Ardern has been praised around the world for her country’s first handling of the coronavirus pandemic. after New Zealand made it Stop the virus at its limits for months. But she was forced to give up this zero-tolerance strategy as contagious variants proliferated and vaccines became widely available.

Ardern has faced mounting anger at home from those who have spoken out against coronavirus mandates and rules. A protest against vaccination mandates that began on Parliament’s grounds last year lasted more than three weeks and ended with protesters hurling stones at police and setting fires tents and mattresses when they were forced to leave. This year, Ardern had to cancel an annual barbecue she hosts due to safety concerns.

Ardern announced last month that a wide-ranging royal commission of inquiry would examine whether the government had made the right decisions in the fight against COVID-19 and how to better prepare for future pandemics. A report is due next year.

Some experts said sexist attitudes played a role in anti-Ardern anger.

But her government has also been criticized for having a lot of ideas but lacking in execution. Supporters feared it had failed to deliver on promised gains in increasing housing supply and reducing child poverty, while opponents said it was not focusing enough on crime and the struggling economy.

Farmers protested plans to tax cow burps and other greenhouse gas emissions.

Ardern faced difficult re-election prospects. Her centre-left Labor Party won re-election in 2020 in a historic landslide, but recent polls have put her party behind its Conservative rivals.

Ardern said the role required a reserve to face the unexpected.

“But I’m not going because it was difficult. Had that been the case, I probably would have left the job after two months,” she said. “I’m leaving because with such a privileged role comes responsibility. The responsibility of knowing when you are the right person to lead and when you are not.”

She said her tenure has been fulfilling but challenging.

“I know what this job takes and I know I don’t have enough in the tank left to do it justice. It’s that simple,” she said.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said Ardern “showed the world how to lead with intellect and strength”.

“She has shown that empathy and insight are strong leadership qualities,” Albanese tweeted.

“Jacinda was a passionate advocate for New Zealand, an inspiration to so many and a great friend to me,” he added.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took to Twitter to thank Ardern for their friendship and “empathetic, compassionate, strong and enduring leadership.”

Ardern charted an independent course for New Zealand. It tried to take a more diplomatic approach to China than neighboring Australia, which ended up in a feud with Beijing. In an interview she told The Associated Press last month that building relationships with small Pacific nations shouldn’t become a game of superiority over China.

Ardern also announced on Thursday that the 2023 New Zealand general election would be held on October 14 and that she would remain as a lawmaker until then.

Until the election, it is unclear who will take over as prime minister. Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson announced he would not challenge Labor Party leadership and threw the contest open.

Labor Party lawmakers will vote for a new leader on Sunday. If no candidate receives at least two-thirds support from the faction, the leadership contest goes to the broader party membership. Ardern has recommended that the party select her successor by the end of her role on February 7.

New Zealand opposition leader Christopher Luxon said Ardern has been a strong ambassador for the country on the world stage. He said his party “is not changing” and remains committed to winning the election and “delivering a government that can get things done for the New Zealand people”.

Ardern said she has no immediate plans after leaving office other than family commitments with her daughter Neve and fiancé Clarke Gayford after a virus outbreak thwarted her previous wedding plans.

“So to Neve, Mum is looking forward to being there when you go to school this year,” Ardern said. “And to Clarke, let’s finally get married.”


Associated Press reporter Rod McGuirk in Canberra, Australia contributed to this report. New Zealander Ardern, an icon for many, resigns

Sarah Y. Kim

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