Speed Reads

You gotta know when to fold 'em

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern resigns unexpectedly, says her 'tank' is empty

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced Thursday that she will step down Feb. 7. She said that over New Zealand's recent summer break she "had hoped that I would find what I needed to carry on" as prime minister, "but, unfortunately, I haven't, and I would be doing a disservice to New Zealand to continue."

The announcement was completely unexpected. Her center-left Labour Party will pick a new leader on Sunday, if any candidate gets a two-third majority of party lawmakers. If not, Labour voters will pick the next prime minister. The race is considered wide open. The next national election will be Oct. 14.

Ardern became the world's youngest female head of government when she was elected, at age 37, in 2017. The next year she became only the second world leader to give birth while in office, after Pakistan's Benazir Bhutto. Ardern earned widespread global praise for leading New Zealand through a series of crises, including the deadly Christchurch mosque shooting and its aftermath, the COVID-19 pandemic, and a destructive volcanic eruption

Being prime minister through these "taxing" events has "taken a lot out of me," said Ardern, now 42. "You cannot and should not do the job unless you have a full tank, plus a bit in reserve for those unplanned and unexpected challenges that inevitably come along." She added that she is "not leaving because it was hard," but because "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."

Ardern led her Labour Party to a landslide victory in 2020, but recent polls had put her party behind its conservative rivals. New Zealand has been facing the same economic headwinds as the rest of the world, and "the heated emotions around the coronavirus debate led to a level of vitriol directed at Ardern that was rarely been seen by former New Zealand leaders," The Associated Press reports.

Ardern said she doesn't have plans after October, except being there when her daughter, Neve, starts school and finally marrying her fiancé, Clarke Gayford.

Among her other accomplishments, Ardern said, "I hope I leave New Zealanders with a belief that you can be kind but strong, empathetic but decisive, optimistic but focused. And that you can be your own kind of leader — one who knows when it's time to go."