Jacinda Ardern has bid an emotional farewell on her last day as prime minister, speaking of the kindness and empathy New Zealanders have shown her, but saying she is ready to be a sister and a mother.
Days after stunning the world by announcing she had “no more in the tank” to lead the country and would step down, the 42-year-old arrived at a gathering of politicians and Māori elders in the small town of Ratana, north of the capital Wellington, and was instantly surrounded by supporters seeking photographs.
“Thank you from the bottom of my heart for the greatest privilege of my life,” Ardern told the gathering in a speech.
She will resign on Wednesday and be replaced by the new Labour Party leader, Chris Hipkins.
Ardern, along with Hipkins and opposition politicians, were making an annual visit to Ratana, where a week-long celebration is held for the birth of Māori prophet Tahupotiki Wiremu Ratana.
Wearing a black dress with her shoulders covered in a traditional Māori cloak, called korowai, she led members of her party onto the community grounds as a brass band played.
The speeches and accompanying songs and dances that followed saw elders speak with humour and warmth about Ardern.
“Thanks so much for teaching us to love quickly,” one elder told Ardern.
Ardern responded, saying that she had not planned to speak but that those there refused to give her an out.
“My overall experience in this job of New Zealand and New Zealanders in this job has been one of love, empathy and kindness,” she said.
“I want you to know I leave with a greater love and affection for Aotearoa New Zealand and its people than when I started.
Before heading onto the grounds, Ardern faced the media for possibly the last time as prime minister, smiling broadly while declining to answer political questions, saying they were now the responsibility of her successor.
“I am ready to be lots of things. I’m ready to be a backbench MP. I’m ready to be a sister and a mum,” she said.
Hipkins, the country’s former COVID minister, was the only person nominated to take over as Labour Party leader. He was first elected to parliament in 2008.
Fiji PM expresses gratitude to Ardern
Meanwhile, Fiji’s Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka says Jacinda Ardern will be remembered in Fiji and the Pacific with utmost respect and admiration.
He has joined leaders around the world in paying tribute to Ardern’s leadership over the past five years.
Rabuka says Ardern’s charisma and humility gave her a natural empathy with Pacific islanders.
The PM states that Ardern consolidated New Zealand’s relationship with Fiji and other island states, and it was during a period when the Pacific was becoming increasingly important in international affairs.
Rabuka highlighted an incident that took place when Ardern visited Fiji in 2020.
He says Ardern made an instant impression at a function for the Women’s Crisis Centre’s new office in Nadi where she surprised and endeared herself to a group of shy Fijian women when she took on the role of tea lady.
As the New Zealand Prime Minister served them, she gave an assurance that she was used to it and did it all the time at home in New Zealand.
Deputy Prime Minister Professor Biman Prasad has thanked Ardern for New Zealand’s assistance to Fiji during national disasters and the COVID-19 pandemic.