'I am human', New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern makes graceful exit from office

Published: 08:52 AM, 19 Jan, 2023
'I am human', New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern makes graceful exit from office
Caption: New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced that she will resign from her post next month.–AFP
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New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, a global figurehead of progressive politics, shocked the country Thursday by announcing she would resign from office in a matter of weeks.

She promised "relentless positivity" as New Zealand's prime minister, but in announcing her shock resignation on Thursday admitted the unrelenting demands of the job had finally worn her down.

The 42-year-old -- who steered the country through natural disasters, the Covid pandemic, and its worst-ever terror attack -- said she no longer had "enough in the tank".

"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 said she would step down no later than February 7, less than three years after winning a landslide election to secure her second term in office.

Former Pakistan diplomat Hussain Haqqani said her resignation has a lesson for sub-continent politicians. 

"Jacinda Ardern became PM at age 37. She is voluntarily retiring, saying, “I am human, politicians are human. We give all that we can for as long as we can. And then it’s time. And for me, it’s time.” When will politicians in South Asia understand that?" he wrote on Twitter.

Since that 2020 peak of "Jacindamania", Ardern's government has struggled -- its popularity hampered by soaring inflation, a looming 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 won international acclaim for her empathetic handling of the 2019 Christchurch mosque massacre, in which 51 Muslim worshippers were killed and another 40 wounded.

At that time, she became the darling of Pakistanis for her role after the attacks and got praised by Pakistan's President and Prime Minister. 

Later that year she was praised for her decisive leadership during the fatal White Island (also known as Whakaari) volcano eruption.

Featured on the covers of British Vogue and Time magazine, there was a perception that Ardern was more popular abroad than she was at home.

At her peak she was a domestic force, but her government has been steadily sliding in the polls over the last year.

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 evident, with Ardern showing a rare lapse of poise last month when she was unwittingly caught calling an opposition politician an "arrogant prick".

 A new leader

New Zealand will choose its next prime minister in a general election held on October 14, Ardern announced.

She said she would continue to serve as an electorate MP until then.

Her departure leaves a void at the top of the Labour party, with her deputy Grant Robertson swiftly ruling out a tilt at the leadership.

Although recent polls indicate a centre-right coalition will likely win the election, Ardern said that was not the reason for her resignation.

"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 was the second prime minister in the world to give birth while in office, after Pakistan's Benazir Bhutto in 1990.

She also paid tribute to the late Benazir Bhutto, a former Pakistani prime minister, during her Harvard University Commencement address, echoing Bhutto’s caution about the fragile nature of democracy.

“There will be opinions and differing perspectives written about all of us as political leaders. Two things that history will not contest about Benazir Bhutto. She was the first Muslim female Prime Minister elected in an Islamic country, when a woman in power was a rare thing. She was also the first to give birth in office.  The second and only other leader to have given birth in office almost 30 years later, was me.”

Ardern said her daughter, Neve Te Aroha Ardern Gayford, was born on June 21, 2018, Benazir Bhutto’s birthday. “The path she carved as a woman feels as relevant today as it was decades ago, and so too is the message she shared here, in this place,” Ardern said about Bhutto’s own 1989 commencement address at Harvard entitled “Democratic nations must unite.”

She said she was looking forward to spending more time with her daughter Neve, who is due to start school later this year, and finally getting married to her partner, TV personality Clarke Gayford.

Categories : World

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