Grateful Ardern makes last bow as New Zealand PM, denying quitting due to vitriol

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Jacinda Ardern during her last public appearance as New Zealand Prime Minister in Ratana Pa, New Zealand, on Jan 24, 2023.

WELLINGTON – New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Tuesday said she was grateful for her time in office, insisting that a sustained barrage of online abuse was not the reason for her shock resignation.

The 42-year-old said last week that she no longer had “enough in the tank” after a turbulent five years, during which she steered the country through natural disasters, its worst terror attack and the Covid-19 pandemic.

Her resignation, less than three years after an emphatic election victory, has ignited a national debate about the vitriol faced by women leaders, especially on social media.

Mr Chris Hipkins, who will take over as prime minister, has said Ms Ardern experienced “utterly abhorrent” abuse while leading the country.

Ms Ardern, however, said she would not describe it that way.

While on her last public engagement as prime minister, visiting the Maori settlement of Ratana in North Island, she said she would hate for her departure to be seen as “a negative commentary on New Zealand”.

“I leave feeling gratitude for having this wonderful role for so many years,” she told reporters from the birthplace of one of the country’s most influential indigenous political movements.

The popularity of Ms Ardern’s Labour government has soured in recent months, hampered by a looming recession and a resurgent conservative opposition.

Mr Hipkins, who will be sworn in as prime minister on Wednesday, said it was “bittersweet” to replace his friend of 20 years.

“I’m really honoured to take on the role, but Jacinda is also a very good friend of mine,” he told reporters on Tuesday.

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Mr Hipkins, 44, admitted there were “moments when it sinks in, and moments when it doesn’t feel quite real”.

Ms Ardern said she would be stepping back from domestic politics, and offered some advice for Mr Hipkins.

“Probably the most important advice I gave him was ‘you do you’,” she said. “It’s for him to carve out his own space and be his own kind of leader.” AFP

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