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Jacinda Ardern bids adieu: Exit unveils exclusive stresses on Prime Minister

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For millions around the world, Jacinda Ardern’s resignation as Prime Minister of New Zealand comes as a shock. With her charm and leadership philosophy rooted in kindness, Ardern has earned widespread popularity, particularly among women who have looked up to her as a role model.

Ardern is not the only prominent figure to make the news in recent years for announcing a shock withdrawal because of burnout – others include athletes Naomi Osaka, Ash Barty, and Virat Kohli; and bosses like James Packer. But Ardern holds that very rare position of being a working mother while leading a country. She gave birth while in office, only the second world leader to have done so after Pakistan’s Benazir Bhutto.

In many ways, it was an extreme test case of balancing work and family. But there were clearly political factors at play as well. Her resignation comes amid growing political headwinds, with her approval ratings falling as New Zealanders’ concerns rise over living costs and crime rates.

It’s always tough at the top, but Ardern’s tenure has seen many challenges: steering the country through an unprecedented pandemic, a horrific domestic terror attack, and a volcanic eruption. Ardern noted in her speech that she faced “constant and weighty” decisions. She has also had to contend with intense public scrutiny throughout her journey, from announcing her pregnancy just months after taking office to her decision to take six weeks of maternity leave, which sparked debate on whether it was too short.

For a while, she appeared determined to tackle it head on, but in the end, it was the human costs of high political office she cited in the most emotional part of her resignation speech. “Politicians are human. We give all that we can, for as long as we can, and then it’s time,” Ardern said, her voice faltering. “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.”

She talked about how she wished to spend more time with her family as they had “sacrificed the most out of all of us”. She said she looked forward to “being there” for her daughter when she begins school, and told her partner Clarke “let’s finally get married”.

Many had hoped to see her continue forging a path and will be disappointed that she could not go any further, but they will no doubt also have sympathy for her predicament. There is, of course, a political calculation in her decision. She has had a meteoric rise to power fuelled by “Jacinda-mania”, but New Zealand’s love affair with her has since soured as her government struggles to navigate post-pandemic economic challenges such as the rising cost of living and deepening social inequality.

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