New Zealand’s Ardern to leave office, sets October election

Mark MItchell/New Zealand Herald via AP
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, right, hugs her fiancee Clark Gayford after announcing her resignation at a press conference in Napier, New Zealand, Thursday, Jan. 19, 2023.

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Thursday she is stepping down as New Zealand’s leader and will not contest general elections set for October.

Fighting back tears, Ardern told reporters in Napier that Feb. 7 will be her last day in office. She will hold her seat as a lawmaker until the general election, which she said would be held on Oct. 14.

“I am not leaving because it was hard. Had that been the case I probably would have departed two months into the job. I am leaving because with such a privileged role, comes responsibility, the responsibility to know when you are the right person to lead, and also, when you are not. I know what this job takes, and I know that I no longer have enough in the tank to do it justice. It is that simple,” she said.

Ardern had faced a tough election campaign this year. Her liberal Labour Party won reelection two years ago in a landslide of historic proportions, but recent polls have put her party behind its conservative rivals.

She was lauded globally for her country’s initial handling of the coronavirus pandemic after New Zealand managed for months to stop the virus at its borders. But it’s zero-tolerance strategy was abandoned once it was challenged by new variants and vaccines became available.

She faced tougher criticism at home that the strategy was too strict.

Ardern in December announced a Royal Commission of Inquiry would look into whether the government made the right decisions in battling COVID-19 and how it can better prepare for future pandemics. Its report is due next year.

Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson said he wouldn’t be contesting the leadership of the party, throwing open the competition to become New Zealand’s next prime minister to other members of the Labour Party.