NZ’s Jacinda Ardern, an icon to many, to step down

Just 37 when she became leader, Ardern was praised around the world for her handling of the nation’s worst-ever mass shooting and the early stages of COVID. Her announcement came as a shock throughout the nation of 5 million people.
Jacinda Ardern
Jacinda Ardern

WELLINGTON: New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who became a global icon of the left and exemplified a new style of leadership, said on Thursday that she would leave office. Lawmakers in her Labour Party will vote for a new leader on Sunday.

Just 37 when she became leader, Ardern was praised around the world for her handling of the nation’s worst-ever mass shooting and the early stages of COVID. Her announcement came as a shock throughout the nation of 5 million people.

Fighting back tears, Ardern told reporters in Napier that February 7 would be her last day as prime minister after five and a half years in office. “I know what this job takes, and I know that I no longer have enough in the tank to do it justice. It is that simple,” she said.

Ardern became an inspiration to women around the world after first winning the top job in 2017. She seemed to herald a new generation of leadership — she was on the verge of being a millennial, had spun some records as a part-time DJ, and wasn’t married like most politicians.

In 2018, Ardern became just the second world leader to give birth while holding office. Later that year, she brought her infant daughter to the floor of the UN General Assembly in New York.

In March 2019, Ardern faced one of the darkest days in New Zealand’s history when a white supremacist gunman stormed two mosques in Christchurch and slaughtered 51 worshippers during Friday prayers. Within weeks, she moved to pass new laws banning the deadliest types of semi-automatic weapons.

But she faced growing anger at home from those who opposed coronavirus mandates and rules. Ardern and her government also faced criticism that it had been big on ideas but lacking on execution. Her centre-left Labour Party won re-election in 2020 with a historic landslide, but recent polls have put her party behind its conservative rivals.

“But I am not leaving because it was hard… I am leaving because with such a privileged role comes responsibility. The responsibility to know when you are the right person to lead, and also, when you are not.”

Ardern said she didn’t have any immediate plans after leaving office, other than family commitments with her daughter, Neve, and her fiancé, Clarke Gayford, after an outbreak of the virus thwarted their earlier wedding plans. “And so to Neve, Mum is looking forward to being there when you start school this year,” Ardern said. “And to Clarke, let’s finally get married.”

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