New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced that she will be stepping down as her country’s leader after nearly six years in office.
Ardern, head of the liberal Labour Party, said she will vacate her office no later than February 7. New Zealand’s next general election is set for October.
“I want to finish with a simple thank-you to New Zealanders for giving me this opportunity to serve, and to take on what has [been] and will always be the greatest role of my life,” Ardern told reporters Thursday NZDT, while holding back tears.
Ardern was elected in 2017 as New Zealand’s youngest prime minister in 150 years, and was reelected in 2020 in a vote that the Associated Press (AP) called a “landslide of historic propositions.” Her liberal party has faced a tough campaign year, however, as recent polls put the Labour Party behind its conservative rivals, AP wrote.
The liberal leader’s most recent term in office has been defined by her stringent response to COVID-19, which managed to stop the spread of the virus in her country for months. However, Ardern’s approach has been hotly contested by opponents for being too strict on citizens, and the prime minister said in December that New Zealand’s Royal Commission of Inquiry would examine whether the government made the right decisions battling COVID, reported AP.
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese applauded Ardern’s time in office in a tweet, writing that she “has shown the world how to lead with intellect and strength.”
“She has demonstrated that empathy and insight are powerful leadership qualities,” Albanese added. “Jacinda has been a fierce advocate for New Zealand, an inspiration to so many and a great friend to me.”
Mike Rann, former premier of South Australia, specifically praised Arden for her COVID-19 response, writing on Twitter that she “showed the world that a small country could be a leader internationally.”
“She also deserves enormous credit for her government’s management of the Covid 19 crisis,” Rann wrote.
Mark McGowan, premier of Western Australia, also praised Ardern’s administration for delivering on “a progressive and positive policy agenda,” noting the New Zealand’s leader’s response to the mass shooting in March 2019 at a mosque in Christchurch, which killed 51 people.
“Jacinda’s empathic and strong leadership guided New Zealand through the heart-breaking Christchurch mosque shootings and the uncertain times of the COVID-19 pandemic,” McGowan wrote.
Other commentators celebrated Ardern’s resignation, however, including New Zealand-born journalist Dan Wootton, who wrote on Twitter, “Good riddance.”
“Jacinda Ardern has resigned as New Zealand’s Prime Minister knowing full well she was about to be brutally booted from office by Kiwis who woke up to her Covid authoritarianism, Be Kind hypocrisy and an economic catastrophe she inflicted on an amazing country,” Wootton said.
Fellow journalist Sophie Corcoran also bashed Ardern in several tweets, specifically calling the New Zealand leader an “authoritarian” for her COVID-19 policies.
“Good,” Corcoran wrote in light of Ardern’s resignation. “She was ghastly and authoritarian. The covid dictators are falling one by one – she’s gone, [Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau] will be next. The people are angry and rightly so.”
Joyce Karam, reporter for AI-Monitor and adjunct professor at George Washington University, acknowledged that “love her or hate her,” Ardern’s “unique legacy” after two terms in office was one to be recognized.
“She put New Zealand on map when it came to fighting climate change, when Muslims in NZ were attacked, and during Covid,” Karam wrote on Twitter. “Knowing when to go is becoming a scarce political quality even in democracies…”
According to a report from the The New York Times, Ardern will remain in office as a member of Parliament for her electorate in the city of Auckland until April.
Newsweek has reached out to the Labour Party and the White House for comment.