Jacinda Ardern fought back tears as she announced her resignation as New Zealand Prime Minister in an emotional press conference, MailOnline has reported.
Her resignation comes into effect on Sunday if the Labour Party can elect her replacement in a two-thirds vote on that day, or on February 7 if the process is drawn out.
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’.
‘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 traditional 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.
‘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.’
Ms Ardern resigns at just 42 after becoming leader just over five years ago on October 26, 2017. She was New Zealand’s youngest-ever PM, and before that youngest sitting MP in 2008, elected aged 28.
During her press conference she admitted: ‘I didn’t expect to be prime minister’.
She insisted her party trailing in the polls to the rival National Party ahead of the upcoming election had nothing to do with her decision to step down.
‘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.
‘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.’
The Labour caucus was surprised when she told them of her intention to resign on Thursday morning, but Ms Ardern said they understood and did not begrudge her stepping down.
‘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 willbe held on October 14. She will stay Mt Albert MP until April so a byelection would not be needed.
The Labour Party, which has been in power since in 2017 election, 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 as 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 Ardern faced unrelenting criticism from some sections of the public for implementing some of the harshest Covid restrictions in the world including lockdowns where New Zealanders couldn’t even buy takeaway food and a more than two-year border closure.
But she denied today that the constant attacks, which continued last year as the economy faltered and cost of living rose, played a role in her decision.
‘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 Māori, however, 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.’
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 Labor 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.
‘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 prime ministership 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 left 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.’