New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern announced that she would be stepping down from her position this week, saying she would leave office before February 7. “I’m leaving because with such a privileged role comes responsibility,” she said at the labor party’s caucus meeting on Thursday, as reported by The Guardian. “The responsibility to know when you are the right person to lead and also when you are not.”
Ardern did not go into detail about why she felt she could no longer do the job, simply saying, “I know what this job takes. And I know that I no longer have enough in the tank to do it justice.” If she sounds burnt out, you can’t really blame her. In Ardern’s five and a half years as prime minister of New Zealand, she became the youngest female head of government in the world — one of the few to give birth while in office. She also led New Zealand through the COVID-19 pandemic, making difficult decisions to close the borders, and even canceling her own wedding due to her government’s COVID protocols. As prime minister, she also saw the country through the attacks in Christchurch and a volcanic eruption — all while shutting down sexist questions from the press and giving live interviews mid-earthquake. She made it look easy, but hinted that her position has taken its toll. “I am human, politicians are human. We give all that we can for as long as we can. And then it’s time. And for me, it’s time,” she said.
Ardern has apparently been considering her next move for the last few months. In her emotional announcement speech, she revealed that she used the summer to consider next steps and eventually determined that she could not continue to serve as prime minister. She does not have any official future plans, in or out of politics, and made clear that she looked forward to seeing a new leader take her place at the top of the party, though it’s unclear who will take over Ardern’s post. (She will reportedly stay on as electorate MP until the end of April and general elections will be held in October.) “I’m not leaving because I believe we can’t win the election, but because I believe we can and will, and we need a fresh set of shoulders for that challenge,” she said.
Reflecting on her legacy, Ardern concluded, “I hope I leave behind a belief that you can be kind, but strong, empathetic but decisive, optimistic but focused. That you can be your own kind of leader — one who knows when it’s time to go.”