Jacinda Ardern, the Prime Minister of New Zealand, will resign before the upcoming election.

Jacinda Ardern, the Prime Minister of New Zealand, will resign before the upcoming election.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced Thursday that she will step down in the coming weeks to make way for a new leader, citing a lack of energy to run for re-election in October.

Ardern said at a press conference that her term would end on February 7, when she expects a new Labour prime minister to be sworn in – though “depending on the process, that could be sooner.”

“I made the decision,” Jacinda Ardern said. “Leading a country is the most privileged job anyone can have, but it is also the most difficult. You cannot and should not do the job unless you have a full tank of gas, plus a little extra for unplanned and unexpected challenges.”

“I no longer have enough in the tank to do the job justice,” she added.

She spoke candidly about the toll the job has taken and reflected on the various crises her government has faced, including the Covid-19 pandemic, which forced New Zealand to impose some of the world’s strictest border rules, separating families and barring almost all foreigners for nearly two years.

Jacinda Ardern’s leadership was also defined by the 2019 Christchurch terror attack, which killed 51 people at two mosques. Her quick response drew widespread praise; she quickly enacted gun-control legislation, wore a hijab to show her respect for the Muslim community, and publicly stated that she would never speak the name of the alleged attacker.

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Mourners place flowers on a wall at Christchurch Botanical Gardens on March 16, 2019.
Vincent Thian/Associated Press

Only nine months later, on Te Puia o Whakaari, also known as White Island, a deadly volcanic eruption killed 22 people.

Ardern announced on Thursday that she has begun thinking about leaving at the end of 2022.

“The only interesting angle that you will find is that after going on six years of some big challenges, I am human. Politicians are people, too,” she said. “We give everything we have for as long as we can, and then it’s time. And it’s time for me.”

Jacinda Ardern also emphasized accomplishments during her tenure, such as legislation on climate change and child poverty. “I wouldn’t want the last five and a half years to be just about the difficulties. “It’s also been about progress for me,” she explained.

Ardern’s resignation was “shocking,” but not entirely unexpected, according to Bryce Edwards, a political scientist at New Zealand’s Victoria University of Wellington.

“She is admired around the world, but her government’s popularity has plummeted,” he said.

The next general election in New Zealand will be held on October 14.

Meteoric political rise

Jacinda Ardern became Prime Minister of New Zealand in 2017 at the age of 37, making her the country’s third female leader and one of the world’s youngest leaders. Within a year, she became only the second world leader in history to give birth while in office.

Her government’s “go hard and go early” approach to the pandemic helped New Zealand avoid the devastating outbreaks seen elsewhere, and she was re-elected for a second term in 2020.

Queen Elizabeth II greets New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern at Buckingham Palace on April 19, 2018, in London.

Ardern gained global support for her innovative and compassionate approach to the role, but her popularity has waned in New Zealand in recent years.

According to CNN affiliate Radio New Zealand, several polls in late 2022 showed falling support for Ardern and her Labour Party, with some at their lowest level since she took office in 2017.

According to political analyst Edwards, Ardern’s decision to step down may have saved her from a disappointing election result.

“Leaving now is best for her reputation… “Rather than losing the election, she will leave on good terms,” he predicted.

There isn’t “anyone obvious” to replace her, according to Edwards, but potential candidates include Police and Education Minister Chris Hipkins, who has a close relationship with Ardern, and Justice Minister Kiri Allan.

Jacinda Ardern stated that she has no firm plans for the future, but she is looking forward to spending more time with her family.

“For Neve, Mom is looking forward to being there when you start school this year, and to Clarke, let’s finally get married,” she said, addressing her child and fiance.

Since 2019, Ardern has been engaged to television host Clarke Gayford.

A woman on the world stage

Ardern has long been popular internationally, particularly among the younger generation, and has established a reputation as a trailblazer while in office.

She has frequently spoken out about gender equality and women’s rights; for example, when she announced her pregnancy in 2018, she emphasized women’s ability to balance work and motherhood.

“I am not the first woman to multitask, I am not the first woman to work and have a baby, I understand these are special circumstances, but there will be many women who have done this well before I have,” she said at the time, with Gayford taking on the role of a stay-at-home dad.

She and Gayford brought their 3-month-old baby to the United Nations General Assembly after giving birth, with Ardern telling CNN that she wanted to “create a path for other women” and help make workplaces more open.

She reflected on her rise to power in a 2021 interview with CNN, saying, “It wasn’t so long ago that being a woman in politics was a very isolating experience.”

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Her resignation announcement on Thursday sparked a wave of support on social media, including from other political leaders, with many emphasizing the legacy she is leaving for women in politics.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese praised Ardern on Twitter, saying she “has shown the world how to lead with intellect and strength” and is a “great friend to me.”

Penny Wong, Australia’s Foreign Minister, also tweeted her best wishes to Ardern, calling her “an inspiration to me and many others.”

On Twitter, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau posted a photo of himself and Ardern walking together, thanking her for her friendship and “empathic, compassionate, strong, and steady leadership over the past several years.”

“You have made an immeasurable difference,” he added.