The surprising resignation of Jacinda Ardern or the art of doing politics differently

The surprising resignation of Jacinda Ardern or the art of doing politics differently

Jacinda Ardern with her fiance Clark Gayford after announcing her resignation as Prime Minister in Napier, New Zealand January 19, 2023. Jacinda Ardern with her fiance Clark Gayford after announcing her resignation as Prime Minister in Napier, New Zealand January 19, 2023. MARK MITCHELL/AP

It goes as it came: without anyone expecting it. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced Thursday January 19 that she would step down as head of government until February 7, just nine months before the next general election. “I gave everything to become prime minister, but it also cost me a lot,” she said, almost in tears, during a press conference. I just don’t have enough energy for another four years.” The announcement sent shockwaves through the archipelago’s 5 million residents.

Jacinda Ardern became the country’s youngest prime minister since 1856 at the age of 37 in 2017. Her arrival at the head of government had already caused a surprise: the Labor Party’s frontrunner less than two months before an election and without ever having held ministerial posts, the elected official had let her political party win by a deficit of 20 points in the polls a few weeks earlier . Jacinda Ardern was a woman, young, pregnant when she took office… Suffice it to say a political UFO for some of her opponents who called her “stardust” or required her to prove she was anything other than “Lipstick on a pig” is “, according to the English expression (“lipstick on a pig”).

Once in power, Jacinda Ardern continued to impose a unique style, playing with the codes of politics. In 2018, she became the second prime minister to give birth to a child while in office (after Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan) and the first to take six weeks’ maternity leave before her spouse took over as a father at home. “I’ll be happy if a prime minister’s pregnancy stops making the headlines because it’s considered normal,” the New Zealand prime minister said in an interview with Le Monde a few weeks before her birth. That same year, she attended the annual United Nations General Assembly with her three-month-old daughter Neve, becoming the first female leader to bring her baby into the Chamber.

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“Since she has held this position, Jacinda Ardern has sought to normalize or even humanize the leader and the political leader through the codes and standards she emphasizes, where others wish to portray a superiority, something of the order of the sacred or divinity,” explains Mérabha Benchikh, PhD sociologist and specialist in gender issues in politics.A “way of embodying an alternative, a different political path, a different exercise of power than, say, Margaret Thatcher, who had integrated very masculine, even masculine codes,” she continues .

From the Christchurch attack to Covid-19

Jacinda Ardern defends a speech “that has feminine rhetoric, it’s sensitive, it’s attentive,” says Maud Navarre, a sociologist who also specializes in gender and women in politics. The New Zealand prime minister was particularly prominent during the attack on two mosques in Chirstchurch in 2019, which left 51 dead and 49 seriously injured. Or during the Covid-19 pandemic. She was then able to successfully conduct a live exchange on Facebook from her sofa to answer questions from her fellow citizens. A brand that has long won the support of New Zealand public opinion. In the 2020 general election, Jacinda Ardern was re-elected with the Labor Party, receiving her highest score since 1946 with more than 50% of the vote and an absolute majority of seats.

Also read (2020): Article reserved for our subscribers In New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern, a Prime Minister, is in the fray

In order to achieve these results, the New Zealand Prime Minister was able to draw on solid experience: the communications scientist has mastered the codes of social networks perfectly. Also, when Jacinda Ardern came to power, she was far from a neophyte and well acquainted with the workings of the political world. She joined the Labor Party at the age of 17 and was the party’s youth vice-president in the early 2000s before pursuing her career abroad, notably working for Tony Blair’s cabinet. Back in New Zealand, she was a member of the House of Representatives from 2008.

The Prime Minister “knew how to use her attitude towards power to make her mark in politics,” reports Ms. Navarre. And that to the end, as evidenced by his surprise resignation, motivated primarily by personal exhaustion and the need to find his family. “This decision is strategic, his popularity ratings have dropped in recent months and it could therefore give his party a chance to win the elections with someone else,” she adds. Relevant and yet unprecedented in recent history, the art of DJing in politics is so rare.