Last week New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern shocked the world with a surprise announcement that she would step down as her country’s leader by February.
“I’m leaving, because with such a privileged role comes responsibility,” the 42-year-old Ardern said in her announcement. “The responsibility to know when you are the right person to lead and also when you are not. I know what this job takes. And I know that I no longer have enough in the tank to do it justice. It’s that simple.”
Ardern’s act of resigning her powerful office, while she was still respected globally and had a good chance of winning a reelection bid, is difficult to comprehend, especially for Filipinos where we have been used to politicians that do not let go of their power and position, but instead make moves to bequeath it to wives, sons, daughters, in-laws and start dynasty-building efforts as soon as they win their first term in power.
What Ardern did is unthinkable in the Philippines. As a world leader, she was widely considered as among the global superstars. At age 42, she is still young and if she were a Philippine politician, she’d probably find a way to stay in power until she was 99. Even if she was starting to become unpopular among her constituents, she still has so many excuses to exploit to justify poor performance and consolidate her grip on power. The convenient excuses of the pandemic, the war in Ukraine and the global cost of living crisis should be enough to give her a fighting chance in any election battle. And yet, she chose to step down while at the peak of her powers.
At 37, Ardern became the world’s youngest female leader in 2017. A liberal known for her demeanor and compassion, she was often cited as a counterpoint to extreme politicians such USA’s Donald Trump, Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro and our very own Rodrigo Duterte. If you ask me personally, I’d love to have a politician like her lead my country but unfortunately for the Philippines, most of our voting population would probably disagree and manage to choose some less competent.
She had the personality and the competence for the highest position in her land, and she was able to do her job admirably, even if she had to breastfeed her daughter whilst on international summits. And because she resigned without scandal and her reputation intact, despite being a politico, I guess we could also assume that she could not be linked to corruption. As a citizen of a third world banana republic it is frustrating to see how it is possible for some lucky countries to have leaders like Jacinda Ardern.
And then to see that leader, who is already doing a decent job by most measures, not just say that she is willing step down, but actually do it when she realizes that she no longer has “enough in the tank” to do her job justice, makes me want to move to New Zealand.
The “Jacinda move” demonstrates the maturity of the political system in New Zealand and highlights just how immature and dysfunctional other countries are, with emphasis on our beloved Philippines.
If you come to think of it, a public official that is heavily involved in corruption wouldn’t voluntarily step down from power. In this country, what we have instead are politicos or “leaders” who hold on to power at all costs, not because they want to serve this country and its people, but because they are protecting their own interests and shielding themselves from investigation and prosecution.
Furthermore, it says a lot about a country when its leader can decide to voluntarily step down with the trust and confidence that their political system is capable of producing a replacement that is more or less as competent and qualified to lead the country.
Aside from not having any vested interests to protect, Ardern had her personal reasons for stepping down. For one, she is the mother of a young child and she probably wants to be able to spend more quality time with the people she holds dearest. Another reason could be the highly toxic environment in today’s world, where social media and the 24/7 news cycle can take a toll on even the thickest skinned politicians and their families.
The most impressive thing about this giga-Chad power move of Jacinda Ardern is that she showed us that it is possible for a peak politico to walk away from all that power and influence. She demonstrated that they don’t have to cling to power forever, they don’t have to defend themselves or their family’s “legacy” continuously, and that their “survival” doesn’t depend on being in power. She showed us all what it is like to have a non-trapo in power and what exactly we are missing out on when we elect the same kind of politicians into power over and over again.*