Jacinda Ardern’s nearly six-year reign as prime minister of New Zealand will come to an end on February 7 as her Labour Party’s popularity ratings decline and the nation seems headed for a recession.
Additionally, it marks the end of at least one stage of her global popularity. Ardern’s notoriety was more due to who she was and her unique answers to the local and global disasters that characterised her term as prime minister than to New Zealand’s preeminence in the international system. She was praised for her leadership during the Covid-19 crisis and a white nationalist mass shooting at two mosques in the city of Christchurch, two incidents that not only made her a role model for young women in leadership but also put her in stark contrast to bombastic, autocratic leaders like former US President Donald Trump and Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro.
Ardern stated on Thursday that she will leave her position before the end of her term and wouldn’t run for reelection, citing burnout after serving in the position for five and a half years. She said at a news conference on Thursday, “I know there will be considerable discussion in the aftermath of this decision as to what the so-called’real’ rationale was. “The only intriguing aspect you will discover is that I am human after enduring some significant trials for the past six years.”
Ardern wasn’t the first female prime minister in New Zealand’s history, but she was the youngest and gave birth while in office, propelling her further into the international spotlight as a young, feminist leader at a time when older men seemed to hold on to power despite social progress, at least in many Western countries and the US in particular.
But in a democracy, internal politics—not foreign recognition—determine a nation’s leadership, and Ardern’s Labour Party has seen a sharp decline in the polls as the economic effects of the Covid-19 issue take hold. The post-Covid economy of New Zealand is headed for a recession, and child poverty, one of Ardern’s concerns, is still increasing, infuriating both the left and the right.
By every parameter imaginable, Ardern succeeded in handling the two key crises that came to characterise her administration, and her aptitudes for teamwork, communication, and empathy were ideally fitted to those situations. She continues to have popularity inside the Labour Party and, up until recently, was rated higher in public opinion surveys than the party as a whole. Ardern’s conservative National Party rival, Christopher Luxon, has been gaining momentum in the polls, suggesting that the majority Labour secured in 2020 could end in October, when Ardern has called for elections. However, if economic conditions change and New Zealanders are eager to move past Covid-19,
According to Kathy Smits
“A professor of politics and international relations at the University of Auckland, while Ardern’s declaration surprised international observers, it may not have shocked New Zealanders as much. The historical instance that really jumps out at me—and a lot of other people—is when [Winston] Churchill was ousted as prime minister of Britain in 1945 following the end of World War II. People were ready for a change, she argued, despite the fact that he was an enormously popular prime minister and had guided Britain through the war. “I believe that there is something somewhat comparable going on here.”
New Zealand, like many other nations, is eager for change.
For her response to the 2019 murders in Christchurch at the Al Noor mosque and Linwood Islamic Center, which left 51 people dead, Ardern rightfully received praise from throughout the world. A self-described white nationalist and neo-Nazi, the gunman employed semiautomatic firearms to commit the atrocities. Ardern established a connection with the Muslim community right away and pledged that the government would cover victims’ burial expenses. Early in her leadership career, her forceful but also heartfelt and sympathetic response launched her into the world stage. Shortly after the shooting, she also made a daring proposal to outlaw semiautomatic firearms, demonstrating her capacity to act in the public interest.
That stood in stark contrast to the US, which, except from a package of specific improvements passed last year, has mostly failed to implement substantial policy change despite frequent mass shootings.
“Communication is something Jacinda is really, really good at; it’s kind of the symbolic side of leadership, bringing people together. She excels at that, according to Smits.
Ardern’s international reputation is significant, but there is no escaping the harsh realities of home democratic politics. Around the world, economies are still being battered by inflation; in New Zealand, the housing market is particularly feeling the effects of this. Many people in New Zealand earn a living by owning and renting real estate. Smits clarified, however, that the New Zealand economy’s housing sector has been severely hampered by increasing property prices and excessive interest rates, which have contributed to the nation’s impending recession. Additionally, it has tightened the housing market, making it challenging for many New Zealanders to locate affordable accommodation.
Ardern also fell short in her efforts to reduce child poverty in New Zealand, which is among the worst in the West. Particularly among Mori and Pacific groups, Smits added, “It’s truly at quite terrible levels.” Although critics claim that the government didn’t go nearly far enough, particularly given that it was one of Ardern’s key policy concerns, the government did manage to reduce the number of children living in poverty slightly during her term.
Despite the fact that taxes or some other source of income are required to finance social programmes like those that would assist reduce child poverty, New Zealand also has a relatively low tax rate. Although Ardern claimed that such a tax increase would never take place under her leadership, her party declined to enact capital gains taxes on income.
The party’s inability to make significant progress on social issues has angered more progressive politicians and voters, in part because the government refused to take the necessary steps to raise money to support social programmes, according to Smits. These domestic issues have made Labour vulnerable to attack from both the right and the left.
The next elections, however, may mark more of a return to form for New Zealand’s Parliament, which uses a mixed member proportional system, than a defeat for Labour. As a result, it is doubtful that any one party will win a clear, lopsided majority of seats, necessitating coalition rule.
And despite the fact that it’s too early to predict how the upcoming election will turn out, opposition leader Christopher Luxon appears to have strengthened his party’s position enough to attract some Labour defectors after several years of internal strife, according to Smits.
Not only New Zealand, but also Brazil, where Bolsonaro was deposed by former President Luiz Inacio “Lula” da Silva last year, is ready for a change. The technocratic Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi was ousted by the far-right Giorgia Meloni last year, while the long-serving German Chancellor Angela Merkel will leave down in 2021 after 16 years in office.
Ardern’s influence is substantial and is likely to outweigh the shortcomings of her government.
Western feminists have embraced Ardern, and rightly so, as a leader who strikes a balance between strength and kindness; a mother who oversaw her nation during some of its most trying times in recent memory.
Hillary Clinton, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, and former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard were among the political figures who tweeted in support of Ardern and the results of her tenure in government. Gillard stated, “Her example has been a shining light to many, especially women.”
Along with her leadership, Ardern’s symbolic effect will probably play a significant role in her legacy. When Neve was only three months old in 2018, Ardern brought her to a General Assembly meeting, creating history in the process. She was just the second elected leader ever to give birth while in office, and the first since Benazir Bhutto did it in 1990.
According to Richard Shaw, a politics professor at Massey University in New Zealand, Ardern’s style is also a noticeable departure from the machismo of autocratic leaders like Trump and Bolsonaro as well as the frequently contentious nature of politics in general.
Shaw said that what she gave the world was a paradigm for democratic politics that did not depend on treating others badly. She never refers to anyone as a “enemy” in her speech.
Shaw noted that Ardern’s leadership style has also focused “the political right, and the misogynists in particular, and the anti-vaxxers and the fringe dwellers in our political community” on her, even though this was probably not the main reason for her resignation.
It’s impossible to predict what Ardern’s legacy will be, but her influence as a symbol of a strong woman and mother, as well as a successful leader, potentially had a similar impact to the election of former President Barack Obama as America’s first Black president. Even if their domestic policies fell short of progressive goals, they both established new standards for progress. She provided a powerful example of how leaders may act and make decisions, even difficult ones, with clarity and compassion, beyond simply being a woman, a mother, and a global leader.