Jacinda Ardern is quitting. The youthful prime minister of New Zealand, still in her early Forties, says she does not have ‘enough in the tank to do the job.’ She sounds sure it is time for her to go, not later than 7 February. Her shock-decision will set off a storm in New Zealand, as Conservative populists are salivating at the door. What made a sensible Ms Ardern ignore the possible dangers her decision could bring on for New Zealand? Why is she exiting now? https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-64327224

Power to Political Opponents

Perhaps Ms Ardern has been swayed by swings in popular sentiment. Her popularity has shown signs of waning of late. Emerging from a long-drawn-out Covid isolation, distraught protesters pushed capital Wellington into a pool of protests in March this year. The riotous protests were marked by arson and violence. Bad luck for the Labour prime minister, the stir set the future anti-Ardern agenda for the opportunistic centre-right National Party.

Long-drawn-out Covid isolation apart, Ms Ardern’s moves to tax farmers on greenhouse gas emissions soured her honeymoon with voters. Plus, her plans to overhaul the water system and her decision to empower the Maori groups further added much power to the elbows of her political opponents. Rising inflation, soaring interest rates and expensive housing were the proverbial last straws on her back. https://www.labour.org.nz/news-jacinda-ardern-priorities-2022

The Out-of-Character Outburst

Sure, these are legacies of Covid in nations across the globe. They are not problems peculiar to Ms Arden’s Labour government. Yet, she is quitting as a host of local issues, including non-stop raids on jewellery outlets and corner-store robberies, have painted her as a prime minister who prefers to go soft on criminals. Crimes and criminals are a strict no-no for peace-loving Kiwis, who view this as Ms Ardern’s major failure.

Sure, Ms Arden’s grounded outlook has made her sense the adverse turns in popular sentiment. As if these adversities were not enough, Ms Ardern managed to lose her cool in the parliament in December 2022. On a live mic, she compared David Seymour, a rival lawmaker, to a part of the male anatomy. Her out-of-character outburst did damage her popular rating. Perhaps such negativities too are behind her decision to quit. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/australasia/jacinda-ardern-david-seymour-insult-opposition-leader-b2244844.html

The Tearful Good-Bye Speech

What now for New Zealand in the near term? The Labour has nine months left before the scheduled national elections in October 2023. Ms Ardern’s successor will be in office thus for less than a year. Desperate to constrict the widening support base of the far-right National Party, the Labour is sure to drop Ms Ardern for a fiercer and a more aggressive successor. Clearly, it is a do-or-die situation for the Labour.

Blunting the National Party’s offences will be top priority for the Labour now. As the National Party moves up the popularity charts, expect hot confrontation to replace cool consensus in New Zealand politics tomorrow. Ms Ardern’s education minister Chris Hipkins may fill in her shoes. If Mr Hipkins takes over, liberalism will be at peril in New Zealand. Perhaps why a liberal Ms Ardern’s good-bye speech in Napier was tearful. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chris_Hipkins

Protecting the Niche Difficult

Ms Ardern’s speech was tearful for other reasons as well. She got her nation’s top job in 2017, when she was mere 37. She got it again through re-election in 2020, riding on her government’s strong Covid response. Overwhelmed, Kiwis voted her back in. Inevitably, Ms Ardern is nostalgic over her glorious days as New Zealand’s youngest prime minister in 150 years and the planet’s youngest female head of a government at the time of her takeover. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2023-01-19/jacinda-ardern-resigns-achievements-and-low-points-as-new-zealand-pm

Heady days followed this takeover. Ms Ardern became a mother while in office. She was viewed by the global community as a progressivist. She was a welcome relief to the regressive politics practised by the far-rights of the earth. Her messages of compassion and inclusivity, and her anti-gun laws, cemented her niche among global leaders. Prime minister or not, Ms Ardern has now before her the formidable job of protecting her well-earned niche.

Hard Times Ahead for the Labour

Yet, Ms Ardern may not worry over Labour trailing the Christopher Luxon-led National Party. She may not agonise over support for the Labour languishing at 33 per cent in December 2022, behind the National Party’s 38 per cent. She may continue to bank on her personal popularity and electoral winnability. However, nonchalance alone is not enough for Labour’s survival in New Zealand.

Hard times are ahead for the Labour for sure. Cost of living is at a painful high. Inflation too. Alongside, home prices are dipping and home equity is shrinking. Surging interest rates are blocking escape routes for home owners. Adding insult to injury, violent crimes are rising. Such non-performance is making sure Ms Ardern’s support base shrinks further. Yet, as Labour’s prime political asset, Ms Ardern’s exit means disaster for her party. https://www.nzherald.co.nz/business/rising-interest-rates-will-test-nzs-financial-resilience-rbnz-warns/WIPMHZPTAFHNJKMDCTZZSVXXGY/

The Labour has nine months to go before the polls on 14 October this year. These nine months are looking dark for Labour. Ms Ardern says she will not stand for re-election and no clear successor is in sight. The Labour deputy leader Grant Robertson, a frontrunner, too says he is not keen on donning the leadership mantle. Making it more difficult for the Labour is the need to marshal a minimum two-third support from lawmakers. The Labour’s passage to power is riddled with many such uncertainties.

In Conclusion

These uncertainties portend a power vacuum. Infighting is sure to erupt in a vacuum. Sworn enemies and conspiracy theorists too are waiting for the Labour to err. Ms Ardern was seen as a potent antidote to pernicious populism when she was voted in for New Zealand’s top job. Her shock-decision to exit will pave the path for populism’s re-entry in New Zealand. Yet another centric citadel faces the danger of falling to the far-right now. Bad news for liberalism and inclusivity in the island nation.