The Australia Letter is a weekly newsletter from our Australia bureau. Sign up to get it by email. This week’s issue is written by Natasha Frost, a reporter with the Australia bureau.
When Jacinda Ardern announced this week that she would be resigning as prime minister of New Zealand no later than Feb. 7, she urged pundits and voters not to look for hidden agendas or secret motives behind her decision.
“I know that there will be much discussion in the aftermath of this decision as to what the so-called ‘real reason’ was,” she said. “I can tell you that what I’m sharing today is it. The only interesting angle that you will find is that, after going on six years of some big challenges, I am human.”
Ardern’s humanity and compassion have never been much of a secret. She grieved alongside those who had lost loved ones in the massacres at two mosques in Christchurch in 2019, and she presented a strong, empathetic face to the families of victims of the Whakaari volcano disaster later that year.
She has shared her struggles with infertility and her joys at having a daughter, Neve, with her fiancé, Clarke Gayford, a local celebrity and television show host.
And when the couple’s wedding was canceled a year ago during a surge of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus, Ardern talked about how she joined others in having her life upended because of Covid.
“I am no different to, dare I say it, thousands of other New Zealanders who have had much more devastating impacts felt by the pandemic, the most gutting of which is the inability to be with a loved one sometimes when they are gravely ill,” she said at the time. “That will far, far outstrip any sadness I experience.”
Ardern is unusual among politicians for her humility and for the fact that she had never angled for more power, said Morgan Godfery, a political commentator and senior lecturer at the University of Otago in Dunedin.
“In Parliament, she never sought the leadership of her party,” he said. “When she did take it on, that was because her colleagues had practically begged her to do so, and in that spirit of humility and service, she took that on.”
I returned to New Zealand from New York in October 2020. Once I had adjusted to life in the land that Covid-19 forgot, I was struck by the warmth with which New Zealanders across the political spectrum spoke about “Jacinda” — never “Ardern” — often nicknaming her “Cindy,” as if she were an old friend.
But with voters growing frustrated by the same economic struggles and other difficulties that have plagued so many other countries, disillusionment has set in. Ardern’s Labour Party is plunging in the polls. When I visited New Zealand again at the end of last year, that same nickname was more often employed with a certain sardonic bite.
While Ardern’s star might be slightly less bright, it still has some glimmer. “She’s still the most popular politician in New Zealand,” the political commentator Ben Thomas, who previously worked for the country’s center-right National Party, said hours after her shocking resignation.
After the surprise had sunk in, speculation about her next move quickly began. Would she, as some suggested, take an extended break to spend more time with her family? Would she, as some commentators had previously predicted, set her sights north and follow in the footsteps of Helen Clark, another former Labour prime minister, and take a post at the United Nations?
The answer may lie in the priorities she professed before becoming prime minister, when she stressed her disinterest in the top job.
In a 2017 interview, Ardern said she was “constantly anxious” about making mistakes as the party’s deputy leader and would not be able to handle the stress of additional responsibility.
“When you’re a bit of an anxious person, and you constantly worry about things, there comes a point where certain jobs are just really bad for you,” she said at the time.
“I always said, perhaps naïvely, I’d like to be a politician — but just have a little bit of a normal life as well,” she added. “I never want to resent what I do.”
Here are the week’s stories.
Australia and New Zealand
Jacinda Ardern Will Be Gone Soon, but New Zealand’s Economic Troubles Are Here to Stay. She maneuvered through one crisis after another but had less success confronting persistent challenges that have hobbled successive governments.
Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand’s Leader, Says She Will Step Down.Ms. Ardern, a global liberal icon who has faced rising political headwinds at home, will leave office by Feb. 7, she said.
How Covid’s Bitter Divisions Tarnished a Liberal Icon. In a part of the world where coronavirus restrictions lingered, Jacinda Ardern struggled to get beyond her association with her administration’s pandemic policy.
Key Moments in Jacinda Ardern’s Political Career. New Zealand’s outgoing prime minister won global fame with youthful charisma and a frank, compassionate leadership style that carried her through crisis.
Novak Djokovic Returns to the Australian Open, No Longer a Villain.His deportation was major news in January 2022, but a year later, the Grand Slam tournament, country and sport seem eager to move on.
Nick Kyrgios Withdraws From Australian Open With Knee Injury.The temperamental star, who was a finalist at Wimbledon last year, had battled soreness in his left knee but was hoping to play.
Around the Times
Men Should Wear More Pink. A Times photographer noticed plenty of vibrant colors and gender-fluid dressing on a recent streetwear shoot. May the trend continue.
27 People on the Streets of New York Talk About How Much Money They Make.“Financial literacy is something that a lot of people don’t have,” one said. “And that’s how the wealth gap gets larger. People don’t really know how to ask for the correct amount of money, because it’s taboo.”
A Fake Death in Romancelandia. A Tennessee homemaker entered the online world of romance writers and it became, in her words, “an addiction.” Things went downhill from there.
Even a Little Alcohol Can Harm Your Health.Recent research makes it clear that any amount of drinking can be detrimental. Here’s why you may want to cut down on your consumption beyond Dry January.
Are you enjoying our Australia bureau dispatches?
Tell us what you think at [email protected].
Like this email?
Forward it to your friends (they could use a little fresh perspective, right?) and let them know they can sign up here.
Enjoying the Australia Letter? Sign up here or forward to a friend.
For more Australia coverage and discussion, start your day with your local Morning Briefing and join us in our Facebook group.