ew Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern created history of sorts by announcing her surprise resignation which will come into effect February 7. With nearly seven months remaining before her term ends, her action is in sharp contrast to that of many current Presidents and Prime Ministers across the world who hang on to power even after running out of new ideas of governance. Some can be noticed harming their people more than doing good during their tenure. Few are even refusing to quit after having suffered electoral defeat. Former US President Donald Trump and recently ousted Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro are latest examples of this obduracy, undemocratic behaviour and utterly naked greed for power. There are many others, including some in India, who desperately cling to power by hook or by crook.
The most remarkable thing about Ardern’s resignation is that she leaves as she entered, taking everyone by surprise. “I have given my absolute all to being Prime Minister but it has also taken a lot out of me,” she said, on the verge of tears, as her parting shot at a Press conference. The candid confession she made distinguishes her from the crop of several world leaders occupying seats of power. She shocked her nation and also global audience by admitting that she no longer had the energy “to do the job justice.”
This is remarkable since the global trend for leaders is to continue even when they are a liability rather than an asset for their people. Ardern’s contribution and hard work in steering her country during the CoVID-19 pandemic, without trying to claim credit for anything, has distinguished her as a true statesperson. She went on to prove that while there may be great advantages in perseverance, there could also be downsides. Today, global leaders, in every walk of life, have to realize that not giving up even when there are no new ideas to pitch for, does not benefit humanity and turns into a total waste of time and energy for the individuals. Unwillingness to let go could easily lead not only to long lasting dissatisfaction but also higher dangers and myopia. Present day psychologists give grit – the capacity to stick to a task when faced with difficulties – a high position in explaining the ingredient termed ‘success’. But Ardern may have proven them wrong.
When Ardern became New Zealand’s Prime Minister in 2017, at the age of 37, she was the country’s youngest PM since 1856. She had a meteoric rise after having been chosen the Labour Party’s Prime Ministerial candidate only two months before the election and without ever having held a ministerial position. She became the PM despite trailing behind her rival by 20 points in the polls a few weeks earlier.
But once she was elevated to the coveted post, she began to show her unique style of functioning characterised by rare empathy and forthrightness. The following year she became the second head of government to give birth to a girl child while in office and the first to take maternity leave for six weeks. Her decision to restrict maternity leave to only six weeks created a controversy, but she showed how a balance can be made between work and home. In a characteristic remark she had then said: “I will be happy when a Prime Minister’s pregnancy is no longer in the news because it will be considered normal.”
The hallmark of Jacinda Ardern’s style of functioning is her efforts to normalise, even humanise, the position of a political leader when most leaders the world over seemingly love to have an air of superiority enjoying all the trappings of power. The way Ardern empathised with relatives of victims of the attacks on two mosques in Christchurch, in 2019 in which 51 people were killed and 49 seriously injured was indeed a shining example of the human face of governance. She even wore a hijab to express solidarity with the wailing mothers of the killed. No wonder, she was re-elected in the parliamentary elections of 2020 securing the highest votes – over 50 per cent – since 1946 and an absolute majority of seats.
It is true she is resigning at a time when her popularity seems to have plummeted and her party’s position appears weak. This is because despite her remarkable leadership in tackling CoVID-19 pandemic, closing the country’s borders for two years, working for children and women, the country is facing a cost of living crisis. She is unable to cope with the situation. Added to all this is the recent incident of a hot mic in Parliament catching her call the libertarian Act party leader, David Seymour, an ‘arrogant prick’. She had to apologize for that utterance.
This may prompt one to conclude that she is running away and leaving her party in the lurch. One may not be inclined to take at face value her words that she is too drained out to lead the country. This may also be a ploy to boost her party’s chance to win the elections later this year riding on the crest of a sympathy wave.
The inescapable truth, however, is that there is no other leader in the world today who has the courage to quit from a position of power, go back home and chill as a common citizen. Also, there is no leader on earth who is non replaceable.