Ardern, 42, has become a global progressive icon since being elected in 2017 and has won praise for her handling of the country’s worst mass shooting and the start of the pandemic. But her approval ratings have plummeted at home, hurting her re-election prospects and intensifying the vitriolic abuse she has suffered throughout her tenure.
“With such a privileged role comes responsibility – the responsibility of knowing when you’re the right person to lead, and also when you’re not,” Ardern said in a surprise announcement in Napier, where his center Labor party – ruling left is holding a caucus retreat. “I know what this job takes, and I know I don’t have enough left in the tank to do it justice.”
She said she would step down as prime minister no later than February 7 and would not seek re-election to parliament later this year.
“It has been the most fulfilling 5 1/2 years of my life, but it has also had its challenges,” Ardern told reporters. “Among an agenda focused on housing, child poverty and climate change, we encountered a major biosecurity foray, a domestic terrorist event, a major natural disaster, a global pandemic and an economic crisis.
“The decisions that had to be made were continual and they were heavy,” she said.
Ardern, who was the world’s youngest female leader when she took office, faced a number of challenges, including the mass shootings at two mosques in Christchurch which killed 51 people, one deadly volcanic eruptionan outbreak of bovine disease and the coronavirus.
“Its international reputation, in many ways, was made by dealing with things that no one would have wanted,” said Grant Duncan, associate professor at Massey University in Auckland.
Ardern was praised for her “zero-Covid” approach to the pandemic and the managed transition once vaccines became available, allowing life inside the country to continue largely as usual while minimizing deaths. She was a highly visible face of New Zealand’s pandemic response, urging the country’s ‘team of five million’ to tackle the crisis together at near-daily public briefings.
“Covid-19 in particular has really separated the sheep from the goats when it comes to leadership in the world,” Duncan said.
Although Ardern’s pandemic strategy has helped propel his party into a historic landslide victory in 2020it also drew criticism that it was too strict, with the the whole nation goes into lockdown in August 2021 after the discovery of a single case. An official inquiry into the government’s response is ongoing and many of Ardern’s right-wing critics cheered his resignation announcement on Thursday.
Labor will vote for a new leader on Sunday. If that person receives more than two-thirds of caucus support, Ardern said, they will resign soon after and the new leader will be sworn in as prime minister. Otherwise, the vote will go to all party members.
Ardern said she planned to stay in parliament until April, avoiding the need for early voting in her suburban Auckland electorate. Beyond that, she says, she has no plans other than to spend time with her family.
Ardern was the second elected head of government in the world to give birth while in office, bringing her 3-month-old daughter, Neve, to the floor of the United Nations General Assembly in New York in 2018.
In his remarks on Thursday, Ardern said Neve and his partner, TV presenter Clarke Gayford – whose the wedding with Ardern has been postponed by the pandemic – were “those who sacrificed the most of all of us”.
“To Neve: Mom can’t wait to be here when you start school this year,” she said. “And to Clarke – let’s finally get married.”
Ardern had faced the prospect of a tough campaign in the upcoming elections, which she said would be held on Thursday (October 14). Along with a perceived increase in violent crime, New Zealand faces many of the same issues as other countries, including a housing crisis, income inequality and galloping inflation.
Although recent polls put Labor behind the Conservative National Party, Ardern said that did not affect his decision.
“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.
Tributes to Ardern poured in from New Zealand politicians and leaders around the world.
“Jacinda Ardern has shown the world how to lead with intelligence and strength,” Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said. said on Twitter. “She demonstrated that empathy and insight are powerful leadership qualities.”
Christopher Luxon, leader of the opposition National Party, said Ardern had made a significant contribution to the country and was a “strong ambassador for New Zealand on the world stage”.
“Her leadership in the aftermath of the Christchurch terrorist attacks was both strong and compassionate, and that is something she can be proud of,” he said.
Former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark said Ardern had done an “amazing job” and lamented the growing threats she has faced from far-right groups who have embraced vaccine misinformation and extremism.
“The pressures on prime ministers are always high, but in this age of social media, clickbait and 24/7 media cycles, Jacinda has faced a level of hate and vitriol that in my experience , is unprecedented in our country,” she said.
Ardern said Thursday that while the increased security risk “is having an impact,” that was not the reason for his resignation.
She said she hoped New Zealanders would remember her “as someone who always tried to be kind”.
She said she hoped to leave behind “the belief that you can be kind but strong, empathetic but decisive, optimistic but focused – that you can be your own kind of leader, one who knows when it’s time to go”.