New Zealand Prime Minister Ardern announces shock resignation

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced she is stepping down in a shock resignation ahead of a general election later this year.

Ardern, 42, doesn’t have the energy or inspiration to seek re-election, she told reporters Thursday in Napier where her Labour Party is holding a caucus meeting. She named the election date as Oct. 14.

“I have given my absolute all to being prime minister but it has also taken a lot out of me,” she said. “You cannot and should not do the job unless you have a full tank, plus a bit in reserve for those unplanned and unexpected challenges that inevitably come along. Having reflected over summer I know I no longer have that bit extra in the tank to do the job justice. It’s that simple.”

The unexpected announcement brings the curtain down on a stunning political career that saw Ardern become the world’s youngest female leader when, then aged 37, she led Labour to power at the 2017 election. It comes as she faced an uphill battle to win a third term in office, with Labour trailing the opposition National Party in opinion polls.

The Labour caucus will vote on a new leader on Jan. 22, with the winner needing two-thirds support. If no-one has that, the contest will go to the wider party membership. It is expected that process will conclude no later than Feb. 7, Ardern said. Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Grant Robertson, a close ally of Ardern’s, said he will not seek the leadership.

Crisis Manager

Ardern said she believes Labour can and will win the election. 

“Labour will be standing on our strong record of progress,” she said. “I’m incredibly proud of what we have achieved over these two terms. We are a strong, experienced and effective team that has successfully steered New Zealand through the greatest challenges our country has faced in decades.”

Ardern will be remembered as an extraordinary crisis manager.

After an extremist went on a shooting spree at two mosques in the South Island city of Christchurch in March 2019, killing 51 and injuring dozens more, an image of Ardern wearing a headscarf as she mourned with families of the victims went around the world and helped to ease outrage in Muslim nations.

She immediately reformed gun laws, banning the semi-automatic weapons used in the attack.

Her brand of decisive, empathetic leadership was again on display when a volcano off the New Zealand coast erupted in December 2019, killing 22 people and injuring dozens, many of them tourists.

Her initial handling of the coronavirus pandemic also stood out.

Ardern put the country into one of the strictest lockdowns in the world to eliminate community transmission of the virus and allow a much quicker return to normality. 

That success saw her ride a wave of popularity to a resounding election victory in 2020, with Labour securing the first outright majority in parliament since the introduction of proportional representation in 1996.

But since then her star has waned in New Zealand as voters turned their focus on the soaring cost of living and darkening economic outlook. The central bank is forecasting as recession this year as it hikes interest rates at record pace to regain control of inflation.

A 1News/Kantar poll published last month showed Labour on 33% support, five points behind National on 38%. National’s ally the ACT Party had 11% support, which would give the pair a parliamentary majority if the results were replicated at the election. 

Ardern said she will remain a member of parliament until April to avoid a by-election. –BLOOMBERG