New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she was stepping down, in a shock announcement that came as she confirmed a national election for October this year.
At the party’s annual caucus meeting on Thursday, Ardern said she “didn’t have enough left in the tank” to get the job done. “It’s time,” she said.
“I am leaving because such a privileged role entails responsibilities. The responsibility of knowing when you are the right person to lead and also when you are not. I know what this job requires. And I know I don’t have enough left in the tank to do it justice. It’s as simple as that,” she said.
Her term as prime minister will end no later than February 7, but she will remain an MP until elections later this year.
“I am human, politicians are human. We give everything we can for as long as we can. And then it’s time. And for me, it’s time,” she said. Ardern said she thought over summer vacation about whether she had the energy to continue in the role and concluded she didn’t.
Ardern became the world’s youngest female head of government when she was elected prime minister in 2017 at the age of 37. She led New Zealand through the Covid-19 pandemic and major disasters including the terrorist attack on two mosques in Christchurch and the White Island volcanic eruption.
“These five and a half years have been the most fulfilling of my life. But it also had its challenges – among an agenda focused on housing, child poverty and climate change, we encountered a…domestic terrorist event, a major natural disaster, a global pandemic and an economic crisis,” a- she declared.
When asked how she would like New Zealanders to remember her leadership, Ardern replied “as someone who always tried to be nice”.
“I hope to leave New Zealanders with the belief that you can be kind but strong, empathetic but decisive, optimistic but focused. And you can be your own kind of leader – someone who knows when it’s time to leave,” Ardern said.
During the past year, Ardern faced a significant increase in threats of violence, especially conspiracy theorists and anti-vaccine groups exasperated by the country’s vaccination mandates and Covid-19 lockdowns. She said, however, that the increased risk associated with the job was not the reason for her decision to quit.
“I don’t want to give the impression that the adversity you face in politics is the reason people come out. Yes, it has an impact. We are human after all, but that was not the basis of my decision,” she said.
Ardern said she has no future plans other than spending more time with her family.
She credited her partner, Clarke Gayford, and her daughter Neve, whom she gave birth to while in office, as “the ones who sacrificed the most of all of us”.
“To Neve: Mum can’t wait to be there when you start school this year. And to Clarke – let’s finally get married.
The Prime Minister’s announcement comes as New Zealand enters a hotly contested election year, with the date of the vote set for October 14. The polls of recent months had placed the Ardern-led Labor party trails national opposition.
Ardern said his decline in the polls was not behind the decision to leave.
“I’m not leaving because I believe we can’t win the election, but because I believe we can and we will, and we need a new team to meet this challenge,” he said. she declared.
Who will replace Ardern, however, is not yet clear: Deputy Chief and Finance Minister Grant Robertson, who would be seen as a frontrunner for the job, said on Thursday he would not seek the job. In a statement, he said “I am not running as a candidate for the leadership of the Labor Party.”
The Labor caucus now has seven days to find out if a new candidate has more than two-thirds of the votes in the caucus to become the new leader and prime minister. A caucus vote for a new leader will take place in three days, on January 22. If no one reaches that threshold of support, the leadership contest will go to all Labor members.
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese paid tribute to Ardern, saying she “showed the world how to lead with intelligence and strength”.
“She demonstrated that empathy and insight are powerful leadership qualities,” he said.