Iconic New Zealander Jacinda Ardern resigns – The Associated Press

Iconic New Zealander Jacinda Ardern resigns – The Associated Press

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) – New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who has become a global icon of the left and has exemplified a new style of leadership, said Thursday that she would be stepping down from office.

When she became leader, at just 37, Ardern was lauded around the world for her handling of the nation’s worst mass shooting and the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic. But she faced increasing political pressure at home and a level of malevolence not experienced by previous New Zealand leaders.

Still, her announcement came as a shock to the nation of 5 million.

Fighting back tears, Ardern told reporters in Napier that February 7 would be her 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 in the tank left to do it justice. It’s that simple,” she said.

Labor MPs will vote for a new leader on Sunday.

Ardern became an inspiration to women around the world after winning the top job for the first time in 2017. She seemed to be heralding a new generation of leaders – she was about to turn the millennium, had some records as a part-time DJ and wasn’t married like most politicians.

In 2018, Ardern became only the second elected world leader to give birth to a child during his tenure. Later that year, she brought her young daughter to the floor of the UN General Assembly in New York.

She won centre-left victories as right-wing populism surged around the world, pushed through legislation targeting net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, oversaw a ban on assault weapons and largely kept the coronavirus out of New Zealand for 18 months distant .

Her approach to the pandemic drew the wrath of US President Donald Trump, and she lashed out at highly exaggerated claims by Trump about the spread of COVID-19 after he said there had been a massive outbreak and “It’s over for New Zealand . Everything is gone.”

“Was angry the word?” Ardern said of Trump’s remarks 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, racist gunman stormed two mosques in Christchurch and slaughtered 51 worshipers during Friday prayers. Ardern was widely praised for her empathy with survivors and New Zealand’s broader Muslim community in the aftermath.

Within weeks of the mosque shooting, Ardern was moving to pass new legislation banning the deadliest types of semi-automatic weapons. A subsequent police buyback program destroyed more than 50,000 weapons, including many AR-15 rifles.

Less than nine months after the shooting, she experienced another tragedy when 22 tourists and tour guides died when the White Island volcano erupted.

Ardern has been praised around the world for her country’s first handling of the coronavirus pandemic after New Zealand managed to contain the virus at its borders for months. But she was forced to abandon this zero-tolerance strategy as more contagious variants became widespread and vaccines became widely available.

She has faced mounting anger at home from those who have spoken out against coronavirus mandates and rules. A protest against vaccination mandates that began on Parliament grounds last year lasted more than three weeks and ended with protesters hurling stones at police and setting tents and mattresses on fire as they were forced to leave the country to leave. This year, Ardern canceled an annual barbecue she hosts due to safety concerns.

Ardern announced last month that a wide-ranging royal commission of inquiry would examine whether the government had made the right decisions in the fight against COVID-19 and how to better prepare for future pandemics. A report is due next year.

Many observers said that sexist attitudes played a role in the anger against Ardern.

“Your treatment over the past few months has been disgraceful and embarrassing,” actor Sam Neill wrote on Twitter. “All the bullies, the misogynists, the injured. She deserves so much better. A great leader.”

But Ardern and her government have also faced criticism for having many ideas but no implementation. Supporters feared it had failed to deliver on promised gains in increasing housing supply and reducing child poverty, while opponents said it was not focusing enough on crime and the struggling economy.

Ardern called climate change the big challenge for her generation. But her policies have met with skepticism and opposition, including from farmers who have protested plans to tax cow burps and other greenhouse gas emissions.

Ardern had faced difficult prospects at the ballot box. Her centre-left Labor Party won re-election in 2020 in a historic landslide, but recent polls have put her party behind its Conservative rivals.

Ardern said the role required a reserve to face the unexpected.

“But I’m not going because it was difficult. Had that been the case, I probably would have left the job after two months,” she said. “I’m leaving because with such a privileged role comes responsibility. The responsibility of knowing when you are the right person to lead and when you are not.”

She said her tenure has been challenging but fulfilling.

“I’m entering my sixth year in office and I’ve done my best in each of those years,” she said.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said Ardern “showed the world how to lead with intellect and strength”.

“She has shown that empathy and insight are strong leadership qualities,” Albanese tweeted. “Jacinda was a passionate advocate for New Zealand, an inspiration to so many and a great friend to me.”

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took to Twitter to thank Ardern for their friendship and “empathetic, compassionate, strong and enduring leadership.”

Ardern charted an independent course for New Zealand. It tried to take a more diplomatic approach to China than neighboring Australia, which ended up in a feud with Beijing. In an interview with the AP last month, she said building relationships with small Pacific nations shouldn’t become a game of outplaying China.

New Zealand opposition leader Christopher Luxon said Ardern has been a strong ambassador for the country on the world stage. He said his party “is not changing” and remains committed to winning this year’s general election to “deliver a government that can get things done for the New Zealand people”.

Ardern announced the vote would take place on October 14 and that she would remain lawmaker until then. Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson announced he would not challenge Labor Party leadership and threw the contest open.

Until the election, it is unclear who will take over as prime minister.

If no candidate receives at least two-thirds support from the Group in Sunday’s Labor lawmakers’ vote, the leadership contest will go to the broader party membership. Pending her resignation, Ardern has recommended that the party choose her successor.

Ardern said she didn’t have too much time to reflect on her tenure in the role, though she found it was one of crises.

“It is one thing to lead your country in peacetime, it is another to lead it through crises. There’s a greater weight of responsibility, a greater vulnerability among people, and I think that will stay with me in many ways,” she said. “I have had the privilege of standing by New Zealand’s side during the crisis and they have placed their trust in me.”

Aya Al-Umari, whose brother Hussein was killed in the Christchurch Mosque attacks, tweeted her “deepest gratitude” to Ardern and said her compassion and guidance on this somber day “have shed light on our grieving journey.”

“I have mixed feelings, shocked, sad but really happy for her,” Al-Umari wrote.

Ardern said she has no immediate plans after leaving office other than family commitments with her daughter Neve and fiancé Clarke Gayford after a virus outbreak thwarted her previous wedding plans.

“So to Neve, Mum is looking forward to being there when you go to 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.