New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced on Thursday that she would stand down for a new leader in a few weeks, saying she did not believe she had the energy to seek re-election in the October election.
Speaking at a press conference, Ardern said her term would end on February 7, when she expects a new Labor prime minister to be sworn in – although “depending on the process which may be sooner”.
“The decision was mine,” Ardern said. “Leading a country is the most privileged job one can have, but also the most difficult. You can’t and shouldn’t do the job unless you have a full tank, plus a little in reserve for those unforeseen and unexpected challenges.
“I don’t have enough left in the tank to do the job justice,” she added.
When Ardern became prime minister in 2017 at 37, she was New Zealand’s third female leader and one of the youngest leaders in the world. Within a year, she had given birth to power – only the second world leader to do so.
See the moment Jacinda Ardern fired back at the reporter’s gender question
She was re-elected to a second term in 2020, the victory buoyed by her government’s ‘go hard and go early’ approach to the Covid-19 pandemic, which has seen New Zealand impose certain toughest border rules in the world, separating families and shutting down nearly all foreigners for nearly two years.
On Thursday, Ardern spoke candidly about the toll the work has taken and reflected on the various crises his government has faced, including both the pandemic and the 2019 Christchurch terror attack, which killed 51 people in two mosques.
The attack was a defining moment in Ardern’s leadership, and his quick response was widely praised. She quickly introduced reforms to gun laws, wore a hijab to show her respect for the Muslim community and publicly stated that she would never utter the name of the alleged attacker.
“The only interesting angle you will find is that after six years of great challenges, I am human. Politicians are human,” she said. “We give everything we can as long as we we can, then it’s time. And for me, it’s time.
Ardern also highlighted achievements made during his tenure, including legislation on climate change and child poverty. “I wouldn’t want the last five and a half years to be just about challenges. For me, it’s also about progress,” she said.
Bryce Edwards, a political scientist at Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand, said Ardern’s resignation was “shocking” but not a complete surprise.
“She is celebrated around the world but her government has fallen in the polls,” he said.
New Zealand’s next general election will take place on October 14.
A former DJ and deceased Mormon, Ardern was New Zealand’s closest thing to a rock star politician, attracting mass rallies and full media coverage. She enjoyed particular support among young people, in a wave dubbed “Jacindamania” when she was first elected.
This popularity has spread overseas, with Ardern appearing on the covers of Vogue and Time magazines and welcoming American TV personality Stephen Colbert to his suburban Auckland home.
But while Ardern has won supporters around the world for her fresh and empathetic approach to the role, her popularity has waned in New Zealand in recent years, with some critics saying she has done little to put in place the transformational government she had promised when she was first elected.
Several polls in late 2022 showed declining support for Ardern and his Labor Party, with some in lowest level since taking office in 2017according to CNN affiliate Radio New Zealand.
Edwards, the political analyst, said Ardern’s decision to step down may spare him a disappointing election result.
“Leaving now is the best thing for her reputation… she will come out on good terms rather than lose the election,” he said.
Edwards said there was “no one obvious” to replace her, although potential candidates include police and education minister Chris Hipkins, who has a close relationship with Ardern, and the minister. of Justice Kiri Allan.
Ardern said she has no specific plans on what she will do next – but she is looking forward to spending more time with her family again. “You could say that they were the ones who sacrificed the most of all of us,” Ardern said.
Addressing her child and her fiancé, she said: “For Neve, mum can’t wait to be here when you start school this year, and for Clarke, let’s finally get married.”
Ardern has been engaged to TV host Clarke Gayford since 2019.
A look at the profile of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern
Ardern gained a reputation as a trailblazer during her tenure, speaking frequently on gender equality and women’s rights.
For example, when she announced her pregnancy in 2018, she highlighted women’s ability to balance work and motherhood.
“I’m not the first woman to multi-task, I’m not the first woman to work and have a baby, I know these are special circumstances but there will be many women who have done this long before me. “, she said. said at the time, Gayford taking on the role of a stay-at-home dad.
After giving birth, she and Gayford brought their 3-month-old baby to the United Nations General Assembly. Ardern told CNN she wants to “create an avenue for other women” and help make workplaces more open.
In a 2021 interview with CNN, she reflected on her rise to power, saying, “It wasn’t that long ago to be a woman in politics was a very isolating experience.”
News of her impending resignation on Thursday sparked an outpouring of support on social media, including from other political leaders, with many highlighting the legacy she leaves for women in politics.
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese tweeted praise for Ardern, saying she “showed the world how to lead with intelligence and strength” and was “a great friend to me”.
Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong also tweeted her best wishes for Ardern, saying she was “an inspiration to me and many others”.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shared a photo on Twitter of himself and Ardern walking together, thanking her for her friendship and “empathetic, compassionate, strong and consistent leadership over the past few years.”
“The difference you have made is immeasurable,” he added.