Why Jacinda Ardern's star in New Zealand faded

Jessica Ardern

A string of crises characterized Jacinda Ardern's five-year term as New Zealand's prime minister, which she attained by what seemed to be accident.

She received international acclaim for how she handled those crises, especially the 2019 shooting massacre of 51 Muslims in Christchurch mosque.

And initially, her leadership of Covid-19 saw her lead her Labour Party to a resounding victory in 2020, but as harsh lockdowns kept New Zealanders at home and its borders closed, her support started to dwindle.

By the anti-vaccine movement and other right-wing protest groups in New Zealand that were influenced by populism, she has been the target of frequently vile abuse.

Her resignation speech on Thursday made it clear that the pressure had an effect and made her question her ability to lead her party into the upcoming election in October.

She said, "This summer, I had hoped to find a way to prepare not just for another year but another term because that is what this year requires; I have not been able to do that.".

Hamilton, on the North Island, is the birthplace of Ms. Ardern, 42, who comes from a Mormon family. Policeman was her father.

She came from a conservative family and attended Waikato University in Hamilton to study communications before deciding against joining the Mormon church due to its position on homosexuality.

Before being elected a member of parliament in 2008, she worked for Tony Blair's UK government and former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark.

She was chosen as Andrew Little's deputy in 2017 as the Labour Party continued to receive low poll numbers under his gloomy leadership, and she quickly gained support. Eight weeks before the election, Mr. Little resigned, and Ms. Ardern took over.

She was criticized for offering little more than stardust during the election campaign, according to her detractors. However, thanks to New Zealand's proportional representation system, Labour was able to form a coalition with the populist New Zealand First party and become the government despite receiving only 36.9% of the vote to the center-right National Party's 44.5%.

That turned out to be a political burden around Ms. Ardern's neck because the erratic leader of the party, Winston Peters, was against many of Labour's cherished policies, like a capital gains tax.

Ms. Ardern appointed Mr. Peters as minister of foreign affairs and largely left him in charge, initially appearing to have little interest in matters outside of the home.

All of that changed after the massacre, and she now leads an international initiative with French President Emmanuel Macron called "the Christchurch Call" to pressure social media companies to impose restrictions on users' ability to post live violent videos, as the Christchurch shooter did.

Jacinda Ardern hugs a woman after deadly attacks on two mosques in Christchurch in 2019
After the shooting in Christchurch in 2019, Ms. Ardern gives a woman a hug.

Her biggest foreign policy challenge, however, was dealing with New Zealand's relationship with China, its largest trading partner, source of tourists, and, for a while, migrants.

Tensions with Australia arose as a result of New Zealand's reputation as the Five Eyes partner that was most supportive of China.

Mr. Peters made a subtle attempt to shift New Zealand's foreign policy focus back to its traditional allies, the US, UK, and Australia. When the US forced New Zealand out of the ANZUS security agreement in 1985, it was left to Ms. Ardern to guide it back to the independent stance the nation had adopted.

After giving birth to her daughter Neve while a prime minister in 2018, she had already begun to gain international fame.

She and her partner Clarke Gayford sat through the Nelson Mandela Peace Summit with Neve, making history as the first female head of state to bring a baby to a UN meeting in New York.

She spent the majority of her day in meetings with President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Li Keqiang during her 2019 visit to Beijing.

She did, however, also go to the White House, London, and frequently crossed the Tasman to meet with Australian prime ministers.

She was unable to change Scott Morrison's or Anthony Albanese's stance on the so-called 501 deportees, who are New Zealand-born individuals who have been given prison sentences of more than 12 months.

Covid described her role as prime minister at home. For almost two years, she held daily press conferences that were streamed and became essential news briefings for the vast majority of the population that was compelled to stay inside due to lockdowns.

Her caucus and party, however, were growing impatient because they wanted their government to leave a legacy of progressive reforms.

After the landslide victory in 2020, Labour launched a number of reforms affecting water, the health system, resource management and planning, broadcasting, and climate change. They were no longer in coalition with the conservative NZ First Party.

In addition, the Treaty of Waitangi and decolonization were given renewed attention, resulting in a new history curriculum for schools and an increase in co-Maori-European governance of public institutions.

Each reform sparked opposition, and by the middle of last year, after a protracted anti-vax protest camp on Parliament's lawn had been finally removed following a violent altercation between protesters and police, a significant anti-Ardern mood was evident, especially in provincial New Zealand.

According to data that was made public in June of last year, threats against Ms. Ardern that were recorded by the police had almost tripled in three years.

As a result, a long-standing custom of the prime minister throwing a barbecue on Waitangi Day on the grounds where the Waitangi Treaty was signed had to be scrapped.

She leaves office with the majority of her reform agenda either still pending passage or barely beginning to be put into practice.

Therefore, at this point, her legacy is primarily one of style, that of a personable, sympathetic politician who preferred "kindness" to confrontation and was ultimately less well-liked at home than she was abroad.

Her true legacy will have to wait.

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