Jacinda Ardern's 'intellect and strength' will be missed as New Zealand PM resigns

World leaders pay tribute to a politician who inspired young women the world over

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New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's announcement that she would "call it a day" and resign sparked outpourings of respect for a leader

It is rare in politics to leave before being pushed or voted out by the public, but Ms Ardern told the nation on Thursday she has "nothing left in the tank" to govern for longer.

"Politicians are human," she said, announcing that her last day would be February 7 after five and a half years in office. "We give all that we can, for as long as we can, and then it's time. And for me, it's time."

The youngest female leader in history when she took office (Finland's prime minister, Sanna Marin, is now the youngest), Ms Ardern alluded to the struggles of managing parenthood and leadership at the end of her speech, telling her daughter Neve that she was looking forward to being there when she started school this year and her partner Clarke Gayford that it was time they got married.

In 2018, Ms Ardern became only the second world leader to give birth while holding office. Later that year, she brought her infant daughter to the floor of the UN General Assembly in New York.

Her honesty about the strain the position put on her, but also pride in her achievements are an inspiration to young women everywhere, experts said.

"She was just very upfront and relatable," Anne-Marie Brady, a professor of politics at New Zealand's University of Canterbury, told Reuters. "I think any young woman that has grown up in this era where we can have it all, yes, but actually we still have our heart connections to our loved ones."

Women have been liberated but "patriarchal institutions" have not evolved enough to support family life, she said.

"We need people like Jacinda Ardern in politics. So, her situation is cause for reflection about what we can do more to support women in politics, and men and their family life too," Ms Brady added.

Five moments from Jacinda Ardern’s term as Prime Minister

Five moments from Jacinda Ardern’s term as Prime Minister

This sentiment was echoed in much of the praise for the Labour party leader.

"I will miss her, but I understand her point," European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde said on the sidelines of the annual World Economic Forum meeting.

Just 37 when she became leader, Ardern was praised around the world for her handling of the nation’s worst mass shooting and the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic. But she faced mounting political pressures at home and a level of vitriol from some that had not been experienced by previous New Zealand leaders.

Former prime minister Helen Clark said Ms Ardern had done an "extraordinary job" in leading New Zealand through major crises.

Yenny Wahid, a prominent Indonesian activist for women's rights and director of the Wahid Institute, said Ms Ardern's decision carried an important message for the next generation of leaders.

"She chose the timing of her own exit, she has different priorities at this point in her life. It shows the young generation that it's OK."

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau thanked Ms Ardern for her friendship, while Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said she had "shown the world how to lead with intellect and strength".

New Zealand opposition leader Christopher Luxon said Ms Ardern had been a strong ambassador for the country on the world stage. He said that for his party “nothing changes” and it remains intent on winning this year’s general elections to “deliver a government that can get things done for the New Zealand people”.

Ms Ardern announced that vote would be held on October. 14, and that she would remain in politics until then. Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson announced that he will not contest the leadership of the Labour Party, throwing the competition open.

It’s unclear who will take over as prime minister until the election.

If no candidate gets at least two-thirds support from the caucus when Labour politicians vote on Sunday, then the leadership contest will go to the wider party membership. Ms Ardern has recommended the party choose her replacement by the time she steps down.

Ms Ardern said she had not had too much time to reflect on her tenure in the role, although noted it had been marked with crises.

Updated: January 19, 2023, 5:31 PM