New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said in a surprise announcement on Thursday that she will step down as leader of the South Pacific country next month and will not seek re-election later this year. “I believe that leading a country is the most privileged job anyone can have, but it is also more challenging.
You cannot and should not do it unless you have a full tank and a little reserve for unexpected challenges,” she told the media at a news conference. “I will seek re-election. “Not asking. My term as prime minister will end by February 7,” Ardern lamented.
Ardern, who became prime minister in 2017 at the age of 37, was wildly popular at home and gained more star power abroad for deftly handling three unexpected crises: the 2019 shootings at Christchurch mosques that killed 51 people it’s deadly.
The volcanic eruption and global pandemic in December 2019. She was thrust into the international spotlight by the mosque attack. Less than 24 hours after the shooting devastation, she donned a black headscarf to meet with members of the Muslim community and was praised for her compassionate response.
Ardern was again praised for her empathetic leadership style when photos circulated of her hugging first responders after a volcanic eruption that killed more than 20 people.
New Zealand has had one of the most successful pandemic responses in the world, and Ardern, who has been praised for her clear communication and science-based decisions, has already enjoyed high popularity, though she has faced some criticism at home. The country’s zero-tolerance strategy.
But she indicated Thursday that facing such heavy burdens of leadership has taken a toll on her. “After six years of going through some big challenges, I’m human,” she said. “Politicians are human beings. We’ll give it all we can for as long as we can, and then it’s time.
” She was re-elected in 2020, buoyed by her response to the pandemic, even as the country slipped into a deep recession for decades. But the progressive leader’s domestic popularity has waned in recent months—mainly on economic issues—and there are doubts that she will win another term in the next election in October.
Polls in December put her Labor Party at around 33% approval rating, some of the lowest results of Ardern’s leadership.