In a tearful speech, New Zealand’s prime minister Jacinda Ardern has announced she is resigning as the leader of the country.
The 42-year-old made the surprise announcement in Napier on Thursday Jan. 19, after five and a half years in the role.
“I believe that leading a country is the most privileged job anyone could ever have, but also one of the more challenging,” Ardern said. “You cannot and should not do it unless you have a full tank, plus a bit in reserve for those unexpected challenges.”
She said she had hoped to find a way to prepare for another term over summer but was unable to do that.
“This has been the most fulfilling five and a half years of my life. But it has also had its challenges,” she said. “But I am not leaving because it was hard. I am leaving because with such a privileged role comes responsibility – the responsibility to know when you are the right person to lead, and also, when you are not.”
“I know what this job takes, and I know that I no longer have enough in the tank to do it justice. It is that simple,” she added.
Ardern’s last day as prime minister will be Feb. 7, but she will remain as a member of parliament until April to spare the country a by-election.
Her Labour party will elect a new party leader – and prime minister – on Sunday Jan. 22.
Ardern, who became the youngest world leader at age 37 in 2017, has led New Zealand through a terrorist attack, a major volcano eruption and the COVID-19 pandemic and is something of an international icon.
She had a daughter while she was in office – the second world leader to ever do so – then proceeded to make history by becoming the first world leader to take maternity leave and bringing her daughter to the United Nations.
She went onto gain widespread praise for her compassionate but firm response to the Christchurch terrorist attack in 2019, when a gunman opened fire in a mosque and killed 51 people.
“The only interesting angle you will find is that after going on six years of some big challenges, I am human,” Ardern said. “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 she had no plans beyond April but was looking forward to spending time with her family once again, who she said had arguably sacrificed the most out of everyone.
“And so to Neve, mum is looking forward to being there when you start school this year. And to Clarke, let’s finally get married,” she said, addressing her four-year-old daughter Neve and TV presenter fiancé Clarke Gayford.
She concluded her speech by thanking New Zealanders for giving her the opportunity to serve and “to take on what has and will always be the greatest role in my life.”
“I hope in return I leave behind a belief that you can be kind, but strong. Empathetic, but decisive. Optimistic, but focused,” she said. “That you can be your own kind of leader, one that knows when it’s time to go.”