New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced on Thursday she would step down to a new leader within weeks, saying she did not think she had the energy to seek re-election at the October polls.
Ardern told a news conference that her term would end on February 7, when she expected a new Labor prime minister to be sworn in – although “it depends on a process that could be earlier”.
“The decision is my own,” Ardern said. “Leading a country is the most privileged job anyone can have, but it’s also the most challenging. You can’t and shouldn’t do it unless you have a full tank, plus some reserves to deal with those Unplanned and unexpected challenges.”
“I don’t have enough money in my gas tank anymore to do the job,” she added.
When Ardern became prime minister in 2017, aged 37, she was New Zealand’s third female leader and one of the youngest in the world. Within a year, she gave birth in office – only the second world leader ever to do so.
Watch the moment Jacinda Ardern hits back at journalists about gender
She was re-elected in 2020, a victory bolstered by her government’s “hard and early” approach to the Covid-19 pandemic, with New Zealand imposing some of the world’s strictest border rules, separating families and shutting down Almost all foreigners have been out for almost two years.
On Thursday, Ardern spoke candidly about the toll on the job and reflected on the various crises facing her government, including the pandemic and the 2019 Christchurch terror attacks, which killed 51 people at two mosques. die.
The attack was a defining moment for Ardern’s leadership, with her quick response winning widespread praise. She quickly pushed for gun law reform, wore a hijab as a sign of respect for the Muslim community, and publicly said she would never name the alleged attacker.
“The only angle you’ll find interesting is that after six years of some big challenges, I’m human. Politicians are human,” she said. “We’ll give everything we can, and then it’s time. And for me, it’s time.”
Ardern also highlighted her achievements in office, including legislation on climate change and child poverty. “I don’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 entirely unexpected.
“She is famous all over the world, but her government has plummeted in the polls,” he said.
New Zealand’s next general election will be held on October 14.
A former DJ and late Mormon, Ardern is the closest New Zealand has come to a rock star politician, attracting mass rallies and overwhelming media coverage. During her first election campaign, she received particular support from young people in a wave known as “Jacindamania”.
This popularity has extended overseas, with Ardern being featured on the covers of Vogue and Time magazine and hosting US TV personality Stephen Colbert at her suburban Auckland home.
But while Ardern has won support globally for her fresh and empathetic approach to the role, her popularity in New Zealand has waned in recent years, with some critics arguing that she is living up to her role. Little has been done on the transformational government promised when he was first elected.
Several polls in late 2022 showed support for Ardern and her Labor Party falling, with some at the lowest levels since she took office in 2017, CNN affiliate Radio New Zealand reported.
Political analyst Edwards said Ardern’s decision to step down could allow her to avoid a disappointing election result.
“Leaving now is the best thing for her reputation … she will leave on good terms, not lose the election,” he said.
Edwards said there was no “obvious person” to replace her, although potential candidates included police and education minister Chris Hipkins, who is close to Ardern, and justice minister Keiri Allen.
Ardern said she had no firm plans for what to do next – but she was looking forward to spending more time with her family again. “Arguably, they are the most sacrificing of all of us,” Ardern said.
“For Neve, Mom looks forward to having you there when school starts this year, and for Clark, let’s finally get married,” she told her children and fiancé.
Ardern has been engaged to TV presenter Clark Gayford since 2019.
Check out Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s profile
Ardern has earned a reputation as a trailblazer during her tenure, often speaking out about gender equality and women’s rights.
For example, when she announced her pregnancy in 2018, she highlighted a woman’s ability to balance work and motherhood.
“I’m not the first woman to wear multiple hats, I’m not the first woman to work and have children, I know these are special circumstances, but there will be many women who have done well before me,” she said. She said at the time that Gayford played the stay-at-home dad role.
After giving birth, she and Gayford took their 3-month-old baby to the United Nations General Assembly, and Ardern told CNN she wanted to “blaze a path for other women” and help make workplaces more open.
Reflecting on her rise to power in a 2021 interview with CNN, she said: “Not too long ago, being a woman in politics was a very isolating experience.”
Her announcement Thursday of her imminent resignation sparked a wave of support on social media, including from other political leaders, with many pointing to her legacy for women in politics.
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese praised Ardern on Twitter, saying she had “shown the world how to lead with wisdom and strength” and had been “a great friend of mine”.
Australian Foreign Minister Wong Ying-hsien also tweeted her best wishes to Ardern, saying she was “an inspiration to me and many others”.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shared a photo on Twitter of him walking with Ardern, thanking her for her friendship and “compassionate, empathetic, strong and steady leadership over the past few years”.
“The difference you guys have made is immeasurable,” he added.