New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced Thursday she will stand aside for a new leader within weeks, saying she doesn’t believe she has the energy to seek re-election in the October polls.
Speaking at a news conference, Ardern said her term would end by February 7, when she expects a new Labour prime minister will be sworn in – though “depending on the process that could be earlier.”
“The decision was my own,” Ardern said. “Leading a country is the most privileged job anyone could ever have, but also the most challenging. 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.”
“I no longer have enough in the tank to do the job justice,” she added.
She said at the end of 2022, she took time to consider whether she had what it takes to continue as prime minister – ultimately concluding it was time to step down.
However, she added: “I am not leaving because it was hard. If that was the case, I probably would have departed two months in the job,” listing various challenges her administration faced, including the Covid-19 pandemic, the 2019 Christchurch terror attack and the deadly volcanic eruption on Te Puia o Whakaari, also known as White Island.
Ardern also highlighted achievements made during her tenure, including legislation on climate change and child poverty. “I wouldn’t want this last five and a half years to simply be about the challenges. For me, it’s also been about the progress,” she said.
A look at Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s profile
Bryce Edwards, a political scientist at New Zealand’s Victoria University of Wellington, said Ardern’s resignation was “shocking” but not a complete surprise.
“She is celebrated throughout the world but her government has plummeted in the polls,” he said. New Zealand’s next general election will be held on October 14.
When Ardern became Prime Minister at 2017 at the age of 37, she was New Zealand’s third female leader and one of the youngest leaders in the world. Within a year, she had given birth in office – only the second world leader ever to do so.
She was re-elected for a second term in 2020, the victory buoyed by her government’s “go hard and go early” approach to the pandemic, which helped New Zealand avoid the devastating outbreaks seen elsewhere.
Ardern won praise on the international political stage for her fresh and empathetic approach to the role, but her popularity has waned in New Zealand in recent years.
Several polls in late 2022 showed falling support for Ardern and her Labour Party, with some at the lowest level since she took office in 2017, according to CNN affiliate Radio New Zealand.
Edwards, the political analyst, said Ardern’s decision to stand down perhaps spares her a humiliating election result.
“Leaving now is the best thing for her reputation … she will go out on good terms rather than lose the election,” he said.
Edwards said there isn’t “anyone obvious” to replace her, though potential candidates include Police and Education Minister Chris Hipkins, who has a strong relationship with Ardern, and Justice Minister Kiri Allan.
After the announcement Thursday, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese tweeted praise for Ardern, saying she “has shown the world how to lead with intellect and strength” and has been “a great friend to me.”
Ardern said she has no firm plans about what she’ll do next – but she is looking forward to spending more time with her family.
Addressing her child and fiance, she said: “For Neve, Mom is looking forward to being there when you start school this year, and to Clark, let’s finally get married.”
Ardern has been engaged to television host Clarke Gayford since 2019.