Was Ardern’s choice to step down as PM an obligatory?

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern (Photo: RNZ)

Jacinda Ardern may have earned a ‘Hero’s image’ in her country and around, but there are skepticisms about her intent: is she quitting because of deepening economic crisis in her country and her inability to address it? commentaries in the international media say.

She made a surprise announcement Thursday to step down as the Prime Minister of New Zealand by February 7 after two wins in general elections and six years at the helm.

She was marked in the international arena not only as the youngest Prime Minister but also as a grounded leader maintaining connectivity with people at hard times. Her empathetic leadership during the times of COVID-19 pandemic, terrorist attack on mosques in Christchurch and the volcanic eruption figured her internationally in the positive note. Yet, her criticism was mounting currently across the country with the deepening economic crisis.

In her surprise announcement, Ardern had said that she was 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 am human, politicians are human. I know what this job takes. And I know that I no longer have enough in the tank to do it justice’.

The situation that led her to this point, nevertheless, not normal and conducive to her continuation.  The prominent political leaders and public figures in New Zealand said that the ‘constant vilification, abuse and personal attacks have contributed to that burnout’, according to The Guardian.

Adding to what Guardian mentioned, RNZ (Radio New Zealand) wrote ‘while Jacinda Ardern did not cite it as one of the reasons she is quitting politics, there is little doubt the prime minister has faced increasingly violent and vitriolic rhetoric. While it wasn’t explicitly stated, it’s hard to imagine the increasingly violent abuse directed at her was not part of the reason’, it added.

The RNZ further mentioned “The language and imagery used to talk about the Prime Minister has become more violent, more vulgar, more crude and repetitive,” quoting Hannah who studies online hate speech and disinformation.

The Guardian quoting Helen Clark also stated that pressures on prime ministers are always great, but in this era of social media, clickbait and 24/7 media cycles, Jacinda had faced a level of hatred and vitriol which in my experience is unprecedented in our country. “Our society could now usefully reflect on whether it wants to continue to tolerate the excessive polarisation which is making politics an increasingly unattractive calling.”