WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who has become a global icon leftist and exemplifying a new style of leadership, said Thursday that she would step down.
At only 37 years old when she became a leader, Ardern has been praised around the world for her handling of the country’s worst-ever mass shooting and the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic. But she faced mounting political pressure at home and a level of vitriol from some that had not been felt by previous New Zealand leaders.
Yet his announcement was a shock throughout the country of 5 million people.
Holding back tears, Ardern told reporters in Napier that February 7 would be his last day as prime minister after five and a half years in office.
“I know what this job takes, and I know I don’t have enough left in the tank to do it justice. It’s as simple as that,” she said.
Lawmakers from his Labor Party will vote for a new leader on Sunday.
Ardern became an inspiration to women around the world after winning the top job in 2017. She seemed to herald a new generation of leadership – she was about to be a millennial, had turned a few records in as a part-time DJ, and wasn’t married like most politicians.
In 2018, Ardern became the second elected world leader to give birth while in office.. Later that year, she brought her baby girl to the floor of the United Nations General Assembly in New York.
She won center-left victories as right-wing populism rose around the world, pushing through a bill to net net carbon emissions by 2050, overseeing a ban on assault weapons and largely keeping the coronavirus out of New Zealand for 18 months.
Her approach to the pandemic has drawn the ire of US President Donald Trump, and she pushed back against Trump’s wildly exaggerated claims about the spread of COVID-19 after he said there had been a massive outbreak and “It’s over. for New Zealand”. It’s all gone.
“Was angry the word?” Ardern spoke about Trump’s comments in an interview with the Associated Press at the time.
In March 2019, Ardern faced one of the darkest days in New Zealand history when a white supremacist gunman stormed two mosques in Christchurch and slaughtered 51 worshipers during Friday prayers. Ardern has been widely praised for her empathy to the survivors and the wider Muslim community of New Zealand thereafter.
After the mosque shooting, Ardern decided within weeks to pass new laws banning the deadliest types of semi-automatic weapons. A subsequent buyback program led by police saw more than 50,000 firearms, including many AR-15 type rifles, destroyed.
Less than nine months after the shooting, she faced another tragedy when 22 tourists and guides were killed when the White Island volcano erupted..
Ardern has been hailed around the world for her country’s initial handling of the pandemic after New Zealand successfully stopped the virus at its borders During months. But she was forced to give up this zero-tolerance strategy as more contagious variants spread and vaccines become widely available.
She faced growing anger at home from those opposing the coronavirus mandates and rules. A protest against vaccination mandates that began on the grounds of Parliament last year lasted more than three weeks and ended with protesters throwing rocks at police and setting tents and mattresses on fire because they were forced to leave. This year, Ardern canceled an annual barbecue she hosts due to safety concerns.
Ardern announced last month that a broad royal commission would examine whether the government had made the right decisions in the fight against COVID-19 and how it could better prepare for future pandemics. A report is due next year.
Many observers said sexism played a role in the anger directed at Ardern.
“His treatment, the heap, over the past few months has been disgraceful and embarrassing,” actor Sam Neill wrote on Twitter. “All the bullies, the misogynists, the aggrieved. She deserved so much better. A great leader.”
But Ardern and his government also faced criticism that he had been big on ideas but lacking in execution. Supporters feared he had failed to deliver promised gains in increasing housing supply and reducing child poverty, while opponents said he was not focusing enough on crime and the economy in trouble.
Ardern described climate change as the big challenge for his generation. But his policies faced skepticism and opposition, including from farmers who protested plans to tax cow burps. and other greenhouse gas emissions.
Ardern had faced tough prospects at the polls. His centre-left Labor party won re-election in 2020 in a landslide of historic proportionsbut recent polls put his party behind his Tory rivals.
She said the role required having a reserve to deal with the unexpected.
“But I’m not leaving because it was hard. If that had been the case, I probably would have left two months into labor,” Ardern said. “I’m leaving because with such a privileged role comes the Responsibility The responsibility of knowing when you are the right person to lead, and also when you are not.
She said her tenure had been difficult but fulfilling.
“I am now entering my sixth year in office, and for each of those years I have given my all,” she said.
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said Ardern “showed the world how to lead with intelligence and strength”.
“She has demonstrated that empathy and insight are powerful leadership qualities,” Albanese tweeted. “Jacinda has been a strong supporter of New Zealand, an inspiration to so many and a great friend to me.”
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau thanked Ardern on Twitter for his friendship and “empathetic, compassionate, strong and consistent leadership”.
Ardern has charted an independent course for New Zealand. She tried to take a more diplomatic approach to China than neighboring Australia, which had ended up feuding with Beijing. In an interview with the AP last month, she said building relationships with smaller Pacific nations should not become a game of one-upmanship with China.
New Zealand Opposition Leader Christopher Luxon said Ardern had been a strong ambassador for the country on the world stage. He said for his party “nothing changes” and that he remains committed to winning this year’s general election to “put in place a government that can get things done for the people of New Zealand”.
Ardern announced that the vote will take place on October 14 and that she will remain a lawmaker until April. As she will leave Parliament within six months of an election, no special election for her seat is necessary.
Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson has announced he will not challenge the Labor Party leadership, launching the contest to see who will take over as Prime Minister from February until the election. Among the favorites is Education Minister Chris Hipkins.
If no candidate wins the support of at least two-thirds of the caucus in Labor lawmakers’ vote on Sunday, the leadership race will go to all party members. Ardern recommended that the party choose her replacement the moment she steps down.
Ardern said she didn’t have too much time to reflect on her tenure in the role, although she noted that it was marked by fits and starts.
“It’s one thing to lead your country in times of peace, it’s another thing to lead it in times of crisis. There is a greater weight of responsibility, a greater vulnerability among people, and so in many ways I think that will be what I will be left with,” she said. “I had the privilege of being with New Zealand during the crisis, and they trusted me.”
Aya Al-Umari, whose brother Hussein was killed in the Christchurch mosque attacks, tweeted her “deep gratitude” to Ardern, saying his compassion and leadership during that dark day “brought light to our journey of mourning.
“I have mixed feelings, shocked, sad but really happy for her,” Al-Umari wrote.
Ardern said she had no immediate plans after leaving office other than family commitments with her daughter, Neve, and her fiancé, Clarke Gayford, after a virus outbreak thwarted their earlier wedding plans. .
“And so for Neve, mom can’t wait to be there when you start school this year,” Ardern said. “And to Clarke, let’s finally get married.”
Associated Press reporter Rod McGuirk in Canberra, Australia contributed to this report.