Jacinda Ardern, prime minister of New Zealand, announced her resignation Thursday, saying she does not have the energy to run again in October.
“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.”
After five and a half years in office, February 7 will be her last day, although Ardern said it may be sooner “depending on the process.”
A defining feature of Ardern’s time in leadership was her government’s “go hard and go early” response to the COVID-19 pandemic. For nearly two years, New Zealand imposed strict border controls, separating families and barring almost all foreigners, as well as stringent domestic lockdowns.
Hundreds of people blocked streets outside of New Zealand’s parliament with trucks and camper vans to protest vaccine mandates and pandemic restrictions at the time. They were inspired by similar protests in Canada, as The Dallas Express reported in February.
Some protestors carried signs that read “Freedom” and said they would camp out in front of parliament until the COVID-19 restrictions were lifted.
People from all over New Zealand joined the “convoy for freedom” protest before Ardern’s first speech in 2022, gathering outside the Beehive, the capital’s parliament building.
The zero-tolerance policy eventually ended due in part to citizens’ growing opposition to coronavirus mandates. One protest near the Beehive last year went on for over three weeks and reportedly turned violent towards the end, with protesters clashing with police and allegedly setting fires.
The first test that drew Arden into the international spotlight was in 2019, when New Zealand was struck by the tragedy of the Christchurch terror attack, where 51 people were killed at two mosques. Some praised how quickly and sharply Ardern acted in that instance, according to CNN.
Bryce Edwards, a political scientist from Victoria University of Wellington, called Ardern’s resignation “shocking” but not unexpected, citing a recent sharp drop in popularity.
During her first election, Ardern, a former DJ and Mormon, drew huge crowds to her rallies and significant attention from the media, landing on the covers of Vogue and Time.
Her popularity in New Zealand has since dropped precipitously. Her critics say that she has not delivered on her campaign promises and, according to CNN affiliate Radio New Zealand, late 2022 polls showed that support for Ardern and her Labour Party was at its lowest level since 2017.
Edwards said Ardern’s resignation likely prevents what would have been poor election results were she to have run in October.
“Leaving now is best for her reputation. … She will leave on good terms rather than lose the election,” he said, CNN reported.
News of Ardern’s resignation was met with several shows of support from fellow politicians and world leaders.
Helen Clark, a former New Zealand prime minister, issued a statement saying that while Ardern has done an “extraordinary job,” she “has faced a level of hatred and vitriol which in my experience is unprecedented in our country.”
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau thanked Ardern for her friendship and “empathic, compassionate, strong, and steady leadership” on Twitter, along with a photo of the two of them walking together. “The difference you have made is immeasurable,” he added.
President Biden tweeted that he was grateful for her role in strengthening relations between the U.S. and New Zealand.