New Zealands Jacinda Ardern an icon to many to step down
WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, whose country’s worst mass shooting and health-driven response to the coronavirus pandemic made her an international icon but who has faced mounting criticism at home, has Said she was leaving the office on Thursday.
Fighting back tears, Ardern told reporters in Napier that February 7 would be her last day as prime minister.
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“I am now entering my sixth year in office, and for each of those years, I have done my best,” she said.
She also announced that the 2023 general election in New Zealand would be held on 14 October and that she would remain an MP until then.
Her announcement came as a shock to the entire nation of 5 million people. Although there was some chatter in political circles that Ardern might resign before the next election, she always maintained that she planned to run for re-election.
It is not clear who will hold the position of prime minister until the election. Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson announced that he would not contest the leadership of the Labor Party, leaving the contest open.
Ardern became an inspiration to women around the world after winning the top job in 2017 at the relatively young age of 37. The following year, she became the second world leader to give birth while in office. When she brought her newborn daughter onto the stage of the United Nations General Assembly in New York in 2018, it brought smiles to people everywhere.
In March 2019, Ardern faced one of the darkest days in New Zealand history when a white supremacist gunman attacked two mosques in Christchurch and killed 51 people. She was widely praised for the way she embraced the survivors and New Zealand’s Muslim community.
New Zealand has been praised globally for its handling of the coronavirus pandemic after it managed for months to contain the virus at its borders. But he was forced to abandon that zero-tolerance strategy as more infectious forms spread and vaccines became widely available.
Ardern faced growing anger at home from those who opposed the coronavirus mandates and regulations. A protest that began last year on the grounds of Parliament has dragged on for more than three weeks with protesters pelting stones at police and setting fire to tents and mattresses after they were forced to leave.
The heated feelings surrounding the coronavirus debate led to a level of vitriol directed at Ardern rarely seen by other New Zealand leaders. This year, Ardern was forced to cancel the annual barbecue due to security fears.
Ardern was facing difficult reelection prospects. His Liberal Labor Party won re-election two years ago in a landslide of historic proportions, but recent polls have put his party behind its conservative rivals.
Ardern said the reserve role was needed to cope with the unexpected.
“But I’m not leaving because it was difficult. If it were to be, I would probably be out of a job for two months,” she said. “I’m leaving because with such a privileged role comes responsibility. Knowing that Responsibility for when you are the right person to lead, and also when you are not.”
He said his time in office has been satisfying but challenging.
“I know what this job takes, and I know I don’t have enough in the tank now to do it justice. It’s that simple,” she said.
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, whose Labor Party is aligned with New Zealand’s ruling party, said Ardern had “shown the world how to lead with wisdom 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 many and a good friend to me,” he said.
With China becoming more assertive in the Pacific, Ardern tried to take a more diplomatic approach than neighboring Australia, which ended in a dispute with China. In an interview with The Associated Press last month, she said that building relationships with smaller Pacific countries should not become a one-sided game with China.
Ardern announced last month that a Royal Commission of Inquiry would conduct a comprehensive inquiry into whether the government made the right decisions in its handling of COVID-19 and how it can better prepare for future pandemics. Its report is to come next year.
The Labor Party’s caucus will vote for a new leader on Sunday. If no candidate receives at least two-thirds support, the leadership battle will go to the wider membership of the party. Ardern has recommended that the party choose her replacement by the time she expires in the role on 7 February.
Ardern said she had no immediate plans after leaving office other than family commitments with her daughter, Neve, and her fiancé Clarke Gayford, after the virus outbreak thwarted her earlier wedding plans.
“And so for Nev, mom is looking forward to being there when you start school this year,” Ardern said. “And for Clarke’s sake, let’s finally get married.”