In October 2017—aged just 37—Jacinda Ardern became New Zealand’s youngest ever Prime Minister, as well as one of the youngest leaders around the world. But it was less her age and more her humanity that earned her international favor.
The liberal leader secured her place as a household name for her swift yet compassionate response to the 2019 Christchurch mosque shootings, and for hugging first responders after a deadly volcano eruption in 2019. Ardern also followed in the rare footsteps of Pakistan’s late Prime Minister Beneazir Bhutto, when she gave birth while in office in 2018.
Six years on, Ardern announced her resignation Thursday amid declining Labor Party poll numbers and a divided political legacy. The 42-year-old ruled out the prospect of seeking re-election in the fall, citing one of the most relatable experiences of them all—burnout, after leading the South Pacific nation through major events including the COVID-19 pandemic.
“After going on six years of some big challenges, I am human,” she told reporters at Thursday’s news conference. “Politicians are human. We give all that we can for as long as we can, and then it’s time.”
After outlining what she describes as a fulfilling yet challenging five and a half years, Ardern concluded: “I hope I leave New Zealanders with a belief that you 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.”
Below, some of the key moments of her leadership and the quotes that defined her tenure.
March 2017: Arden is elected and receives comments about being a young woman
“Granted I am a young proposition for the party, but this team has worked alongside me for nine years, they have faith in me, and I absolutely believe I am up for the job.”
January 2018: Ardern announces she is expecting
“I’m just pregnant, not incapacitated. Like everyone else who has found themselves pregnant before, I’m just keeping on going,” she said while delivering a speech at the re-opening of an old courthouse, a week after announcing her pregnancy.
“I hope that she doesn’t feel any limitations. That she doesn’t have any sense of what girls can or can’t do. That it’s just not even a concept for her,” she said, referring to her daughter growing up, in a 2019 interview with NEXT magazine.
Ardern gave birth on June 21, 2018, and took six weeks of maternity leave.
November 2018: Arden is criticized for leading with likability
“It takes courage and strength to be empathetic, and I’m very proudly an empathetic and compassionate leader. I am trying to chart a different path, and that will attract criticism but I can only be true to myself and the form of leadership I believe in.”
March 2019: World attention for her response to Christchurch mosque shooting
“He sought many things from his act of terror, but one was notoriety, and that is why you will never hear me mention his name. He is a terrorist. He is a criminal. He is an extremist. But he will, when I speak, be nameless and to others I implore you to speak the names of those who were lost rather than the name of the man who took them,” Ardern said following the mass shooting that left 51 dead.
Following the deadliest attack in New Zealand’s history, Ardern pushed through sweeping gun control legislation that saw a ban on the sale of all types of semi-automatic weapons and assault rifles.
2020: New Zealand adopts a Zero COVID-19 approach that keeps deaths to a minimum
“The worst-case scenario is simply intolerable, it would represent the greatest loss of New Zealanders’ lives in our history and I will not take that chance.”
“I say to all New Zealanders: the government will do all it can to protect you. Now I’m asking you to do everything you can to protect all of us. Kiwis—go home,” she said, in reference to the country’s strict lockdown policies.
New Zealand has recorded 2,437 deaths during the pandemic, and had one of the lowest death rates in the developed world.
October 2020: Ardern oversees a landslide victory for Labor and installs the most diverse government and Parliament ever
“We are living in an increasingly polarized world, a place where more and more people have lost the ability to see one another’s point of view. I hope that this election, New Zealand has shown that this is not who we are. That as a nation, we can listen and we can debate,” she said.
Her Labor Party won a landslide majority in the election on the back of New Zealand’s successful early response to the pandemic. With a new mandate, Ardern appointed eight women, five indigenous Maori ministers, and a gay deputy prime minister.
2021: Her popularity starts to unravel over strict COVID restrictions and lockdowns
“I still feel really confident knowing that people know we’ve made those tough decisions for the right reasons. And, yes, that will have an impact on things like polls but it doesn’t change those decisions we’ve made and how well they’ve served New Zealand,” Ardern said.
Although Ardern had been lauded for her pandemic record, the leader had struggled to move beyond her association with a once-in-a-century pandemic.
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