Jacinda Ardern has put tiny New Zealand on the map in her five years as prime minister, becoming a global icon for left-leaning politics and women in leadership, even as she struggled at home with the economy and COVID-19 restrictions.
The 42-year-old – who gained attention for bringing her baby to a United Nations meeting and wearing a hijab after a massacre targeting Muslims – announced in similarly dramatic fashion on Thursday that she will step down in less than three weeks, saying she had “no more in the tank”.
“Be strong, be kind,” New Zealand’s youngest prime minister in more than a century repeated through her eventful tenure, but her empathetic leadership and crisis management skills often masked her government’s shortcomings.
Considered personable and engaging, Ardern turned speaking from the heart and smiling through adversity into a winning formula for surging to power in 2017 and returning with a blowout win in 2020 that ushered in New Zealand’s first purely left-leaning government in decades.
Her leadership was marked by unprecedented events for the island nation of 5 million: the 2019 massacre of 51 Muslim worshippers in Christchurch by a white supremacist and the eruption of the White Island volcano, and, the next year, the pandemic.
“I hope I leave New Zealanders with a belief that you can be kind but strong, empathetic but decisive, optimistic but focussed,” Ardern said in an emotional resignation announcement. “And that you can be your own kind of leader – one who knows when it’s time to go.”