When she became the world’s youngest female leader in 2017 at age 37, Jacinda Ardern ignited a wave of euphoria known as «Jacindamania» in New Zealand, while also placing the Pacific island nation in the spotlight. world.

In the six years since, she has become an icon of the left and an advocate for women in public life, bringing a compassionate, authoritative energy to the hyper-masculine realm of world politics.

But on Thursday, Ardern said he would be stepping down, an announcement that was met with shock across the country of 5 million.

“I know what this job requires and I know I don’t have enough in the tank anymore to do it justice. It’s that simple,” he told reporters in Napier, a coastal city on the North Island. “I hope to leave New Zealanders with the belief that they can be kind but strong, empathetic but decisive, optimistic but focused. And that you can be your own kind of leader, one who knows when it’s time to go.»

Holding back tears, she added that February 7 would be her last day as prime minister after five and a half years in office.

An unconventional leader

By the time she reached the top job, Ardern had DJed a few records part-time, served fish and chips and volunteered at a soup kitchen in New York, where she worked as a researcher. She had also served as a member of parliament with the centre-left Labor Party for nine years.

Unlike most heads of state, she was not married and has not yet married her partner, Clarke Gayford, host of a popular fishing show called «Catch of the Day», although she said they would now have more time.

Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand, smiles during a press conference in Sydney on June 10, 2022.
Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand, during a press conference in Sydney in June. Brendon Thorne/Bloomberg via Getty Images

In 2018, Ardern became the second world leader, after Pakistan’s Benazir Bhutto, to give birth while in office in modern times and would become the first elected leader to take maternity leave.

Their daughter, Neve, then 3 months old, made headlines later that year when Ardern brought her into the United Nations General Assembly chamber.

world praise

Just eight months later, in March 2019, Ardern led New Zealand into one of the darkest days in its history after a white supremacist killed 51 worshipers during Friday prayers at two mosques in the city of Christchurch.

Her empathy was widely praised by the leaders of Muslim countries after a photo of her wearing a headscarf while hugging a Muslim woman tightly went viral.

Within weeks, Ardern went on to pass laws banning the deadliest types of semi-automatic weapons; a subsequent police-led buyback scheme saw more than 50,000 weapons destroyed, including many AR-15-style rifles.

She was also lauded for her leadership during the covid pandemic after New Zealand closed its borders, allowing life within the country to continue largely as normal and minimizing deaths.

In April 2021, the country hosted the world’s largest music concert since the pandemic began, attended by 50,000 people without masks or physical distancing.

But his government was forced to abandon the strategy as more contagious variants spread and vaccines became widely available.

Threats of death

Despite progress at home and abroad, death threats followed Ardern throughout his tenure as prime minister.

Data published last year to New Zealand Media outlet Newshub It showed that police recorded 18 threats to the prime minister in 2019, 32 in 2020 and 50 in 2021.

«This is not just a distraction from work, it’s not just affecting immediate loved ones, which is why we’re seeing an exodus of women like myself and Ardern leaving politics,» Seyi Akiwowo, founder of Glitch, a UK- organization that seeks to end online abuse, he said by email Thursday.

“It has become a totem pole for the political right, and misogynists in particular, and anti-vaxxers and fringe denizens of our political community,” said Richard Shaw, a professor of politics at Massey University in New Zealand.

“I think what she offered the world was really a model for doing democratic politics that is not based on abusing other people.” added. «She never uses the term ‘enemy’ to describe anyone.»

Praise from world leaders

Vice President Kamala Harris led the tributes to Ardern, tweeting that she had «inspired millions around the world.»

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also thanked Ardern on Twitter for his friendship and «empathetic, compassionate, strong and consistent leadership.»

Closer to home, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese tweeted that Ardern «has shown the world how to lead with intellect and strength» and «proved that empathy and insight are powerful leadership qualities.»

In Dubai. Ardern’s image was projected onto the side of the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, in a tribute.

Now what?

Although Ardern’s pandemic strategy helped propel his party to a historic landslide victory in 2020, it also drew criticism that it was too strict, with the entire nation locked down in August 2021 after the discovery of a single case. An official investigation into the government’s response is underway.

The Labor Party will hold a vote for a new leader on Sunday. If that person receives more than two-thirds of the caucus’ support, Ardern said, he will resign soon after and the new leader will be sworn in as prime minister. Otherwise, the vote will go to the broadest membership of the party.

Ardern said he plans to stay in Parliament until April, avoiding the need for an early vote in his suburban Auckland constituency. Other than that, she said, she has no other plans than to spend time with her family.

“So for Neve, mum can’t wait to be there when you start school this year. And to Clarke, let’s finally get married,» she said.