Jacinda Ardern made her last public appearance as New Zealand Prime Minister on Tuesday and said what she would miss most was the people because they were the “joy of the job”.
Ardern, who was a global icon of the left, shocked the nation on Thursday when she said she was stepping down after more than five years as leader because she had nothing left in the tank. Labor lawmakers voted unanimously for Chris Hipkins as Prime Minister on Sunday and he will be sworn in on Wednesday.
Ardern’s final act as leader was to join Hipkins and other lawmakers attending celebrations at the Rātana Assembly Grounds, home of an indigenous Māori religious movement.
Ardern told reporters she has been friends with Hipkins for nearly 20 years and spent two hours with him driving to the meeting site. She said the only real advice she could give was, “You do it.”
“This is for him now. It’s up to him to create his own space to be his own brand of leader,” Ardern said. “Actually, there’s no real advice I can give. I can share information, I can share experience, but this is for him now.”
Ardern also addressed the broad discussion that’s been going on since her announcement about the caustic and misogynist attacks directed at her on social media – something she said didn’t contribute to her decision to step down.
“Although there have been some comments after my departure, I would hate if anyone saw my departure as a negative comment on New Zealand,” Ardern said. “I have experienced so much love, compassion, empathy and kindness while in this job. That was my predominant experience.”
Hipkins told reporters the leadership change was “bittersweet.”
“Obviously I’m very honored to be taking on this role, but Jacinda is known to be a very good friend of mine,” he said.
At the meeting site, Ardern was greeted with hugs and songs. She told those present that she left the job with a greater love and affection for New Zealand and its people than when she started.
“I didn’t think it was possible,” she said.
She said her colleagues are extraordinary people.
“I’ve never done this job alone,” Ardern said. “I have made it to New Zealand along with these wonderful servants. And I leave knowing that you are in the best of hands.”
Ardern plans to remain MP until April to avoid triggering special elections before October’s general election. She said she was prepared for her new, relatively obscure role.
“I’m ready to be many things,” Ardern told reporters. “I’m ready to be a backbench. I’m ready to be a sister and a mother.”
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