Ardern's Resignation Is a Shock. But Can You Blame Her?

Her nearly 6 years in office were marked by a global pandemic, mass shooting, and sexist abuse
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 19, 2023 10:10 AM CST
Ardern's Resignation Is a Shock. But Can You Blame Her?
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, right, hugs her fiance Clark Gayford after announcing her resignation at a press conference in Napier, New Zealand, Thursday, Jan. 19, 2023.   (Mark MItchell/New Zealand Herald via AP)

Jacinda Ardern was "a breath of fresh air" from her election as the world's youngest female head of government in 2017 at age 37. Governing New Zealand with "empathy and humor," the former DJ carried a "'not quite a politician' vibe"—one reinforced by "her shock decision to quit," according to political reporter Henry Cooke. Ardern's Labour Party trails the center-right National Party ahead of an October election, and "who exactly would pick a year of 18-hour workdays fighting an election they would probably lose over the peace of civilian life, where you have a child about to start school and a fiance you keep putting off marrying?" Cooke writes at the Guardian. He concludes Ardern's decision "is understandable on a human level, but the politics of it is confounding." More:

  • 'Labour's best weapon': "Labour MPs and supporters have every right to be furious" as "she leaves the party in far worse shape to fight this election than it would have been under her leadership," Cooke writes. She led in preferred prime minister polls and "remained Labour's best weapon" against opposition leader Christopher Luxon, a former aviation executive whom "the public have not quite warmed to."

  • Subject of hate: Yet Vera Alves of the New Zealand Herald can’t believe Ardern didn't quit "a long time ago, when she first started getting hate for trying to steer the country away from mass death in a global pandemic." "I'm not sure any other prime minister in history has had to deal with the level of vitriol Ardern has had to put up with on a regular, exhausting basis," writes Alves, who sees Ardern's departure as a reminder "to prioritize our own well-being."
  • Sexist abuse: Ardern speaks of not having "enough in the tank," and "I think part of what's probably contributed to that is just the disgusting level of sexist and misogynistic abuse to (which) she has been subjected," Suze Wilson, a leadership expert at New Zealand's Massey University, tells the New York Times, which notes threats against Ardern "have increased greatly over the past few years."

  • The pandemic: Though Ardern's "zero COVID" strategy reportedly kept New Zealand COVID-free until 2021, she "became a target of hatred for the US far right over her policies," per Insider. In reporting on her resignation Wednesday, Fox News host Tucker Carlson referred to her as "the lady with the big teeth who tormented her citizens" and an "appalling abuser" of human rights.
  • The turning point: "The disillusionment around the vaccine mandates" marked "a turning point" in her leadership, University of Auckland epidemiologist Dr. Simon Thornley tells the Times, describing a violent clash between police and protesters camped out at Parliament last February as "a dark day in New Zealand history." A Christchurch resident adds that businesses still face staff shortages because of delays in reopening borders.

  • Her legacy: "Some will see her as Labour's greatest postwar leader—a strong leader through massive crises"—including a deadly volcanic eruption and mass shooting—"who also gave the party its largest win in decades," writes Cooke. But others may argue "Ardern has lost the chance to really embed her vision of social democracy into the country with another win."
  • What's next: Ardern says she looks forward to seeing her daughter start school later this year and finally marrying her fiance, Clarke Gayford, per Quartz. Her work plans are unclear, though Massey University politics professor Richard Shaw predicts we'll see more of her. "She became a totem," but now "she may get a bigger platform," he tells the Times.
(Read more Jacinda Ardern stories.)

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