When Jacinda Ardern hit headlines for her baby and the hijab
New Zealand’s prime minister Jacinda Ardern is quitting after a tumultuous five years that shot her to global stardom as a progressive leader but also left her ground down by the challenges at home. The 42-year-old declared on Thursday, “I know that I no longer have enough in the tank.” Let’s take a look at the five moments that marked her leadership.
Ardern won accolades in September 2018 when she was photographed kissing and bouncing her then three-month-old daughter, Neve, inside the hall of the United Nations General Assembly — the first such appearance by a baby in the organisation’s history.
She was only the second prime minister to give birth while in office after Pakistan’s Benazir Bhutto in 1990. “I want to normalise it. By being more open it might create a path for other women,” Ardern told CNN.
Ardern was widely praised for her response to the March 2019 Christchurch attacks, when a white supremacist gunman targeted two mosques during Friday prayers, killing 51 and seriously injuring another 40. She donned a headscarf and comforted victims’ families after the shooting, which resonated globally. She would later describe it as a spontaneous gesture of respect to the Muslim community.
She also won plaudits for swiftly enacting gun law reforms and pushing social media giants to address online hate speech. Ardern found herself again comforting a shocked nation nine months later when a volcanic eruption at White Island, also known as Whakaari, killed 21 people and left dozens more with horrific burns.
Ardern won a second term by a landslide in October 2020, snatching a clear parliamentary majority as she rode a wave of “Jacindamania” popularity underpinned by her handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. Ardern, who cobbled together a coalition government in 2017, dubbed her second win “the COVID election”.
She campaigned on her government’s success in eliminating community transmission of the coronavirus, which at the time had claimed 25 lives in a population of five million. New Zealand only fully reopened its borders in August last year. The total number of deaths attributed to COVID has now climbed to 2,437.
Two years after winning her second term, a small but vocal segment of New Zealand’s population turned against Ardern’s handling of the pandemic. In February last year, hundreds of demonstrators gathered in front of the distinctive Beehive parliament building in Wellington.
The PM refused to meet the protestors — many of them espousing anti-vaccine conspiracy theories — and said they were using “intimidation and harassment” to get their point across. More than 100 people were eventually arrested, with Ardern later describing the situation as “incredibly difficult” and “challenging”.
Ardern’s popularity waned as she battled declining trust in government, a deteriorating economic situation, and a resurgent conservative Opposition. Recent polls put the centre-right coalition ahead, with elections to be held on 14 October. The stress has been evident in recent months — Ardern showed a rare lapse of poise when she was unwittingly caught on microphone calling an opposition politician an “arrogant prick”.