Jacinda Ardern has insisted her decision to resign as New Zealand’s Prime Minister is because she ‘doesn’t have enough in the tank’ – but there is speculation as to whether she is actually running scared of an election mauling following a public outcry over her draconian Covid lockdowns.
Ms Ardern, 42, today choked back tears as she announced she will step down after just over five years in power – during which she introduced some of the harshest Covid restrictions in the world.
She insisted her decision to step down had nothing to do with the fact her Labour Party is trailing in the polls behind its conservative rivals from the National Party ahead of the upcoming election in October.
The National Party took the lead in the polls following unrelenting public anger over her draconian Covid lockdowns, which included one nationwide lockdown over a single infection, and vaccine mandates.
Her policies sparked nationwide protests – one protest against vaccine mandates that began on Parliament’s grounds last year lasted for more than three weeks and ended with protesters hurling rocks at police and setting fires to tents and mattresses as they were forced to leave.
As a result of the public anger over Ms Ardern’s response to Covid – which included a border closure that lasted more than two years – and her domestic policies, she was facing tough reelection prospects. This has prompted speculation that the real reason she decided to quit was because she didn’t want to face a humiliating defeat in the elections.
Ms Ardern, 42, today choked back tears as she announced she will step down after just over five years in power – during which she introduced some of the harshest Covid restrictions in the world
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, right, with her fiancee Clark Gayford leave a press conference after announcing her resignation in Napier, New Zealand
Police hold riot shields as demonstrators against Covid-19 vaccine mandates and restrictions gather outside of the New Zealand Parliament grounds in Wellington on March 2, 2022
But Ms Ardern insisted her decision to step down had nothing to do with a potentially catastrophic election result.
‘The Labour team are incredibly well placed to contest the next election. They are the most experienced team in the country and have shown they have the skills necessary to respond to whatever comes their way,’ she said.
Ms Ardern continued: ‘I am not leaving because I believe we can’t win the election but because I believe we can and will. But we need a fresh set of shoulders for the challenges of both this year and the next three.
‘I know there will be much discussion in the aftermath of this decision as to what the so-called real reason was. I can tell you that what I’m sharing with you today is it.
‘The only interesting angle that you will find is that going on six years of some big challenges, I am human.’
Ms Ardern faced unrelenting criticism from sections of the public for implementing some of the harshest Covid restrictions in the world, including lockdowns in which New Zealanders couldn’t even buy takeaway food.
Ardern last month announced a wide-ranging Royal Commission of Inquiry would look into whether the government made the right decisions in battling COVID-19 and how it could better prepare for future pandemics. A report is due next year.
Ms Ardern’s ratings have also dropped in recent months due to a worsening housing crisis, rising living costs and mortgage rates, and growing concerns about crime.
Jacinda Ardern fought back tears as she announced her resignation as New Zealand Prime Minister
Ardern described climate change as the great challenge for her generation. But her polices faced skepticism and opposition, including from farmers who protested plans to tax cow burps and other greenhouse gas emissions.
This has meant that the Labour Party, which has been in power since 2017, lost its consistent lead in the polls early last year. The opposition National Party vote began to surge around October 2021.
Ms Ardern’s rivals took the lead in the polls at the same time her government introduced a fresh round of restrictions when the country was hit by the Omicron Covid variant.
Her government never regained the lead in aggregated polling trends, staying slightly behind the Nationals. However, as the opposition has the support of the right-wing ACT party it would gain a clean majority if the election was held today.
Ms Arden’s resignation will come into effect on Sunday if the ruling Labour Party can elect her replacement in a two-thirds vote on that day. If not, she will officially step down on February 7.
Today, she said she had hoped to find the energy and heart during the Christmas break to stay in the job, ‘but I have not been able to do that’.
‘Once I realised that I didn’t, I knew unfortunately there was not much alternative other than to hand over now,’ she said at the Labour Party’s January caucus meeting in Napier on Thursday.
‘I am human. Politicians are human. We give all we can for as long as we can – and then it’s time. And for me, it’s time.’
She added: ‘I know what this job takes. And I know that I no longer have enough in the tank to do it justice.
‘I am leaving because with such a privileged job comes a big responsibility. The responsibility to know when you are the right person to lead – and also when you’re not.
‘I have given my absolute all to being prime minister but it has also taken a lot out of me. 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 that inevitably come along.
‘Having reflected over summer, I know I no longer have that bit extra in the tank to do the job justice. It’s that simple.’
And, when asked what she would do next, Ms Ardern said she looked forward to spending time with her young daughter and finally marrying her fiancé Clarke Gayford after their wedding was called off due to Covid.
Ms Ardern was elected just over five years ago on October 26, 2017, and at 37, was New Zealand’s youngest ever PM. Before that, she was the youngest sitting MP in 2008, elected aged 28.
During her press conference, she admitted: ‘I didn’t expect to be prime minister.’
Ms Ardern said she hoped to find the energy and heart during the Christmas break to stay in the job, ‘but I have not been able to do that’
Ms Ardern embraces her fiancé Clarke Gayford after announcing her resignation and declaring that they could finally get married
The Labour caucus was shocked at the announcement on Thursday morning, but Ms Ardern said they understood and did not begrudge her for it.
‘If I don’t have what it takes, I need to let someone else take on this job,’ she said.
During her resignation speech, Ms Ardern announced the next New Zealand general election will be held on October 14. She will remain an MP for Mt Albert until April so a byelection would not be needed.
Ms Ardern today denied that the constant attacks she faced over her Covid policies played a role in her decision to quit.
‘I am not leaving because it was hard. Had that been the case, I probably would have departed two months into the job,’ she said.
‘I know when I have enough left in the tank to do it justice. I would be doing a disservice to New Zealanders to continue.’
Ms Ardern said there wasn’t one singular moment where she realised she needed to quit, but admitted the cumulative challenges had ‘taken their toll’ and the ‘sheer weight’ of making continual tough decisions during a series of national crises was ‘taxing’.
‘There’s never been a moment where it felt like we were just governing,’ she said.
‘But I don’t want to leave the impression that the adversity you face in politics is the reason that people exit. Yes it does have an impact, we are humans after all, but that was not the basis of my decision.’
Maori political party Te Pāti Māor claimed Ms Ardern was driven from the job by the frequent personal attacks and threats she endured.
‘It is a sad day for politics where an outstanding leader has been driven from office for constant personalisation and vilification,’ party co-leader Ngarewa-Packer said.
‘Her whanau (family) have withstood the ugliest attacks over the last two years with what we believe to be the most demeaning form of politics we have ever seen.’
Mr Gayford watches on as his fiancée announces her resignation and New Zealand PM
Ms Ardern and Mr Gayford pose with their baby daughter Neve Te Aroha Ardern Gayford outside the hospital in Auckland on June 28, 2018
The resigning PM was asked if she would take up a role with the UN after leaving office. She did not give a straight answer.
‘This has been my entire focus as you can see by the fact you’ve not been aware of this [my resignation], so [the UN] has not been my focus,’ she said.
‘My focus has been this decision, supporting the Labour team through this next stage.’
Instead, she insisted she had ‘no plans’ other than looking after her daughter Neve and finally marrying her fiancé Clarke Gayford after their wedding was called off due to Covid restrictions.
‘I am looking forward to spending time with my family once again… so to Neve, mumma is looking forward to being there when you start school this year, and to Clarke, let’s finally get married,’ she said.
Ms Ardern said she had not yet told her daughter of her plans because ‘four-year-olds are chatty, I couldn’t take the risk’.
‘I had the support of my family to continue, in fact some particularly close to me wanted me to continue – but they supported my decision,’ she revealed.
When asked what the first thing she would do when she woke up the day after her premiership ended, she replied, with a laugh: ‘Probably have the cup of tea that Clarke will inevitably make me in bed.
‘I don’t say that in jest, that’s actually been his practice for the past five years if I’m not up before him. And [then I’ll] probably make Neve breakfast.’
She said she is leaving office without regrets, offering a simple way she would like to be remembered.
‘As someone who always tried to be kind,’ she said.
‘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.’
Ms Ardern imposed some of the world’s harshest Covid restrictions and only allowed visitors to enter less than a year ago
Protesters gather outside parliament in Wellington on November 9, 2021, calling for an end to Covid restrictions and vaccine mandates in New Zealand
Ardern’s next act?
Speculation is rife that Jacinda Ardern will take up a role at the UN after stepping down as PM.
Ms Ardern attracted worldwide attention when she brought her then four-month-old baby Neve into the UN in September, 2018.
Sky News anchor Ashleigh Gillon noted job offers would ‘surely be coming thick and fast’ for the outgoing prime minister.
She fought back tears when she made the announcement on Thursday.
The resigning PM was asked if she would take up a role with the UN after leaving office and didn’t give a straight answer.
‘This has been my entire focus as you can see by the fact you’ve not been aware of this (my resignation), so that (the UN) has not been my focus,’ she said.
‘My focus has been this decision, supporting the Labour team through this next stage.’
Instead, she insisted she had ‘no plans’ other than relaxing with her daughter Neve and marrying her fiancé Clarke Gayford after their wedding was called off due to Covid restrictions.
In 2018, Ardern became just the second world leader to give birth while holding office. Later that year, she brought her infant daughter to the floor of the U.N. General Assembly in New York.
In March 2019, Ardern faced one of the darkest days in New Zealand’s history when a white supremacist gunman stormed two mosques in Christchurch and slaughtered 51 worshippers during Friday prayers.
Ms Ardern was widely lauded for immediately meeting with the families of victims and the local Muslim community, wearing a headscarf as a sign of respect.
A photograph of her hugging a member of the Christchurch Muslim community with ‘peace’ in English and Arabic written next to it was projected on to the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, the world’s tallest building.
After the mosque shootings, Ardern moved within weeks to pass new laws banning the deadliest types of semi-automatic weapons. A subsequent buyback scheme run by police saw more than 50,000 guns, including many AR-15-style rifles, destroyed.
Less than nine months after the shooting, she faced another tragedy when 22 tourists and guides were killed when the White Island volcano erupted.
Ardern said she hadn’t had too much time to reflect on her tenure in the role, although noted it had been marked with crises.
‘It’s one thing to lead your country in peace times, it’s another to lead them through crisis. There’s a greater weight of responsibility, a greater vulnerability amongst the people, and so in many ways, I think that will be what sticks with me,’ she said. ‘I had the privilege of being alongside New Zealand during crisis, and they placed their faith in me.’
Aya Al-Umari, whose brother Hussein was killed in the Christchurch mosque attacks, tweeted her ‘deepest gratitude’ to Ardern, saying her compassion and leadership during that darkest day ‘shone a light in our grief journey.’
‘I have a mixture of feelings, shocked, sad but really happy for her,’ Al-Umari wrote.
Ms Ardern and Gayford with their child Neve look on after the Prime Minister formally commissioned the diving support and hydrographic survey vessel Manawanui into the Royal New Zealand Navy on June 7, 2019
Ms Ardern attracted worldwide attention when she brought her then four-month-old baby Neve into the UN in September, 2018
Ms Ardern hugs fellow MPs after announcing she would be stepping down from the top job
The rumours WERE true! Jacinda Ardern repeatedly denied she would soon quit
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern repeatedly denied she would quit before the next general election despite consistent rumours she was on her way out.
The rumour mill began in earnest back in October when government circles exploded with gossip Ardern, 42, was set to step down.
She angrily hit back at the speculation at the time, and categorically insisted she would stay and fight the October 2023 election despite plummeting polls.
‘I’ve heard this,’ the Kiwi PM said in a radio interview at the end of last October. ‘This rumour has floated around my entire time five years in government.
‘I have no plans to change my role as leader, I am not going anywhere. I’ve said this on the show a number of times.
‘Rumours circulate and it’s just part of the role but this is not the first time I’ve had this one and it did come up the last election as well.
‘I am the Labour leader and I have no plans on changing that.’
She also dismissed speculation she and her partner Clarke Gayford were set to quit the rat race for a new quiet life in rural New Plymouth on North Island’s west coast.
She added: ‘While I am here might I also dismiss the rumour that I am relocating to New Plymouth, as lovely as it is, I am not intending to move either.’
Ms Ardern has spent her entire life in politics, joining the Labour Party at 17 and working for then-PM Helen Clark, NZ’s first female leader, straight out of university in 2001.
She joined parliament in 2008 aged just 28, at an election where Labour was drummed out of power after nine years.
Nine years later she was unanimously elected leader and led the party to victory on October 26 that year.
Ms Ardern quickly became a media darling for her relative youth for a head of government, outspoken leadership style, and progressive politics.
She was polarising but maintained strong popularity among Kiwis until it began to wane in 2021.
In 2020, she was along with other world leaders thrust into the coronavirus pandemic and settled on one of the most aggressive responses on Earth.
New Zealand’s borders closed on March 20, 2020, and returning citizens had to endure two weeks of hotel quarantine.
A nationwide lockdown began on March 26 and lasted until May 27, so strict that Kiwis couldn’t even buy takeaway food like they could in Australia and other countries in lockdown.
More lockdowns followed in specific regions over the next year including two lasting several weeks across Auckland, NZ’s biggest city.
Despite the heavy restrictions from Covid, Ms Ardern won a landslide election victory on October 17, 2020, winning 65 seats in NZ’s 120-member parliament.
A second nationwide lockdown followed in August 2021 when the Delta variant arrived, and widespread vaccine mandates were brought in to accelerate the Covid immunisation rollout.
The vaccine mandates and lockdown sparked protests outside parliament in Wellington and elsewhere. Auckland was stuck in lockdown until December 3, and mask and vaccine mandates lasted until September 2022.
But Ms Ardern’s popularity was only blunted last year when the world was plunged into a cost of living crisis spurred on by the Russian invasion of Ukraine that boosted inflation.
Ms Ardern unveils Covid alert levels, which led to some of the world’s hardest restrictions, as she closed the country’s borders on March 21, 2020
Ms Ardern famously showed compassion and respect for victims of the March 2019 Christchurch mosque massacre by wearing a headscarf as she met with families and others in the local Muslim community in the days after
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese expressed his admiration for his close ally and wished her well after politics
Food prices in December had their biggest year-on-year rise in 32 years, jumping 11.1 per cent, including a 23 per cent increase to the cost of fruit and vegetables.
Ms Ardern’s personal life wasn’t boring while in office, either. She was only the second head of government to give birth while in office when her daughter Neve arrived on June 21, 2018.
She and Mr Gayford announced their engagement in May 2019 and were due to marry in January 2022 but the wedding was called off when she increased restrictions in response to the Omicron outbreak.
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese expressed his admiration for his close ally and wished her well after politics.
‘Jacinda Ardern has shown the world how to lead with intellect and strength. She has demonstrated that empathy and insight are powerful leadership qualities,’ he said.
‘Jacinda has been a fierce advocate for New Zealand, an inspiration to so many and a great friend to me.’
Life and times of Jacinda Ardern
JULY 26, 1980 – Jacinda Ardern is born in Hamilton, 100km south of Auckland, daughter of police officer Ross and school dinner lady Laurell, and raised in the Church of Latter Day Saints.
1994 – Starts her first job working in a Morrinsville fish and chip shop.
1997 – Becomes a Labour Party member at the age of 17.
1999 – Ardern joins the campaign team for New Plymouth MP Harry Duynhoven in the general election.
2001 – She spends a semester at Arizona State University.
2001 – Graduates from the University of Waikato after three years with a Bachelor of Communication Studies in politics and public relations.
2005 – She quits the Church of Latter Day Saints as it clashes with her personal beliefs, including on gay rights. She later identifies as agnostic.
2001-2008 – Works a research assistant for New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark before travelling to New York – where she worked as a volunteer at a soup kitchen – and London, where she became a policy advisor to UK PM Tony Blair.
2008 – Elected president of the International Union of Socialist Youth at their world congress in the Dominican Republic.
NOVEMBER 8, 2008 – Stands for Labour in the safe National seat of Waikato at the general election. She loses but wins a seat in Parliament as a list MP to become the youngest sitting MP in Parliament at the age of 27. Appointed shadow youth affairs spokesman.
2011 – Stands for Labour in Auckland Central at the general election and loses to sitting Nationals MP Nikki Kaye by just 717 votes. Returns to Parliament as a list MP again. She becomes Labour’s shadow social development spokesman.
2012 – She meets television presenter and future fiance, Clarke Gayford.
2014 – She again fights Kaye for her seat in the general election and loses again, but cuts the majority further to just 600. She again returns to Parliament as a list MP and is appointed shadow spokesman for Justice, Children, Small Business, and Arts & Culture.
2014 – Attends the World Economic Forum’s forum of young global leaders.
JANUARY 22, 2017 – Wins the Mount Albert by-election in a landslide with 77 per cent of the vote.
MARCH 7, 2017 – Appointed deputy leader of the Labour Party.
AUGUST 1, 2017 – Appointed Labour leader unanimously at the age of 37, after the resignation of Andrew Little, to become the youngest to hold the post.
SEPTEMBER 23, 2017 – Leads Labour to a minority victory in the general election after deals with rival parties give them enough seats to claim power.
OCTOBER 19, 2017 – Arden appointed PM after New Zealand First leader Winston Peters agrees to form coalition government, with the Greens’ support. Ardern is the nation’s third women prime minister, and NZ’s youngest PM since Edward Stafford in 1856.
JANUARY 19, 2018 – Announces she is pregnant.
JUNE 21, 2018 – She gives birth to daughter Neve Te Aroh, meaning ‘Bright’, ‘Love’ and the rural town of Te Aroh, close to where Ardern grew up around Morrinsville near Hamilton.
MARCH 15, 2019 – 51 people shot dead and 49 injured in a white supremacist’s assault on two Christchurch mosques, described by Ardern as a ‘well-planned terrorist attack’. She refused to use the name of the killer and insisted the names of the victims should be remembered, not his. Her handling of the slaughter was praised globally.
APRIL 2019 – After a vow by Ardern in the wake of the tragedy, New Zealand bans most semi-automatic weapons and assault rifles and parts that convert guns into semi-automatics.
MAY 3, 2019 – Confirms she is engaged to Gayford. Wedding is scheduled for January 2022 but was postponed by the Omicron outbreak.
SEPTEMBER 2019 – Embroiled in a row over an alleged cover-up of sexual assault by a Labour staffer.
DECEMBER 9, 2019 – the Whakaari / White Island volcano catastrophically erupts with 47 people on shore at the time, killing 22 – including two bodies never recovered – and injuring 25, many horrifically burned with life-changing injuries.
MARCH 15, 2020 – New Zealand brings in quarantine regulations for international visitors in response to the Covid pandemic.
MARCH 20, 2020 – New Zealand closes its border to non-NZ citizens and permanent residents.
MARCH 25, 2020 – Ardern imposes a two-month national lockdown. A series of local lockdowns ensued in the years that followed as NZ enforced a Covid Zero policy.
MAY 2020 – She agrees a Covid-safe travel bubble with Australian PM Scott Morrison and state leaders to open borders between the two nations.
AUGUST 2020 – a series of weekly protests against the Covid restrictions begins in Auckland with 60 people and swells to around 1000 people in September before interest dwindled.
SEPTEMBER 2020 – Admits to cannabis use ahead of a referendum on decriminalising the drug. The move was defeated in the public vote.
OCTOBER 17, 2020 – Romps home in the general election with a poll approval rating of almost 60 per cent, the highest in polling history. She won a landslide victory and dramatically increasing her majority in her own seat too.
DECEMBER 2, 2020 – Declares a climate change emergency and vows the government will be carbon neutral by 2025.
AUGUST 2021 – National Covid lockdown – which lasts until December in Auckland – marks the end of the Covid Zero strategy as the vaccine rollout hastens.
OCTOBER 30, 2021 – Around 5000 take to Auckland’s streets to protest against the ongoing pandemic restrictions.
NOVEMBER 9, 2021 – Thousands gather in demonstrations across the country to call for an end to the lockdowns and Covid mandates. Smaller protests occur weekly until Christmas and return in January.
FEBRUARY 2022 – New Zealand finally rolls back its border controls and Covid restriction over the following three months.
APRIL 2022 – Banned from travelling to Russia after supporting Ukraine.
MAY 14, 2022 – Tests positive for Covid. Her fiance had tested positive six days earlier.
JUNE 10, 2022 – Visits Anthony Albanese for the first time following his election as PM and the pair exchange vinyl record by local bands – with Albanese’s dated choices mocked online by Ardern’s fiance.
SEPTEMBER 2022 – Covid vaccine and mask mandates are lifted.
SEPTEMBER 19, 2022 – Wears Maori cape to the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II.
JANUARY 19, 2023 – Announces her impending resignation after realising she doesn’t have ‘enough in the tank’ to carry on any longer.
Jacinda Ardern resignation speech
‘Being Prime Minister has been the greatest honour of my life and I want to thank New Zealanders for the enormous privilege of leading the country for the last five and a half years.
‘With holding such a privileged role comes responsibility, including the responsibility to know when you’re the right person to lead, and also when you’re not.
‘I have given my absolute all to being Prime Minister but it has also taken a lot out of me. 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 that inevitably come along.
‘Having reflected over summer I know I no longer have that bit extra in the tank to do the job justice. It’s that simple.
‘I have spoken to the Governor-General this morning to let her know.
‘In addition to our ambitious agenda that has sought to address long term issues like the housing crisis, child poverty and climate change, we also had to respond to a major biosecurity incursion, a domestic terror attack, a volcanic eruption and a one in one hundred year global pandemic and ensuing economic crisis. The decisions that had to be made have been constant and weighty.
‘I’m incredibly proud of what we’ve achieved over the last five years in spite of the many challenges thrown at us. We’ve turned around child poverty statistics and made the most significant increases in welfare support and public housing stock seen in many decades.
‘We’ve made it easier to access education and training while improving the pay and conditions of workers. And we’ve worked hard to make progress on issues around our national identify – I believe that teaching our history in schools and celebrating Matariki as our own indigenous national holiday will all make a difference for years to come.
‘And we’ve done that while responding to some of the biggest threats to the health and economic wellbeing of New Zealanders, arguably since World War Two.
‘The Labour team are incredibly well placed to contest the next election. They are the most experienced team in the country and have shown they have the skills necessary to respond to whatever comes their way.
‘I’m not leaving because I believe we can’t win the election, but because I believe Labour can and will win it. We need a fresh set of shoulders for the challenges of both this year and the next three.
‘As to my time in the job, 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.’