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Jacinda tears up in resignation interview

Jacinda Ardern has said she feels tired and acknowledged her leadership became a political flashpoint for some people as she reflected on her five-year term as New Zealand’s prime minister.

The ex-Labour leader defended her government’s record on policy priorities such as reducing child poverty and climate change, saying any prime minister who said they’d achieved perfection wasn’t being honest.

Ms Ardern looked back on her time in office in an interview with state broadcaster TVNZ on Tuesday about two months after she announced her unexpected resignation from the top job.

She teared up near the end of the 50 minute interview when she was asked how she felt about plans to have her portrait added to a collection displayed in a corridor in New Zealand’s parliament.

“One day, I will be finished and the only thing that will remain is that picture and how I made people feel,” Ms Ardern said.

Asked how she made herself feel, Ms Ardern whispered: “Tired”.

Ms Ardern became the youngest female leader in the world when she won the 2017 election at the age of 37 and said she stepped down because she couldn’t commit to another three years should Labour win the next election.

She will reportedly continue as an MP until the national poll in October, when her successor Chris Hipkins will try to lead the Labour Party to a third term in government.

Ms Ardern defended her record when she was pressed on not having done as well on tackling child poverty as she had vowed to do in 2017, saying none of the aspirations she took to office was something she could have completed in five years.

“Judge me against my aspirations but also judge me against the outcome of them,” she said.

“Despite an economic crisis, on every marker that we’ve used for child poverty, we have made reductions since the time I came into office.”

Asked about New Zealand being on track to meet more of its climate targets through buying international carbon offsets than any other OECD nation, Ms Ardern insisted the country was leading the way in other areas.

New Zealand was close to being able to achieve 100 per cent renewable electricity generation and was one of the only countries in the world that had said it would put a price on agricultural emissions, she said.

Ms Ardern said she didn’t leave office “with perfection” but no leader could.

“Anyone that claims that (they) did … is not being honest with you. But I hand on heart know that we did make a difference,” she said.

Ms Ardern was swept to power on a wave of popularity labelled “Jacindamania” and was lauded for her progressive agenda and her commitment to reducing economic inequality as well as her early handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.

She also won praise for her empathetic response to two major traumatic incidents that marked her time in office — the 2019 White Island volcanic eruption and the 2019 Christchurch mosque terror attack.

But her popularity declined during her last year in office as inflation and crime rates both soared and the country grappled with a housing crisis.

Ms Ardern told TVNZ she hoped her resignation might temper the “friction” she said had entered politics in New Zealand.

“A part of me did think if I go, maybe we can just take a breath, because I knew I was a flashpoint for some people,” she said.

“That wasn’t the basis of my decision (to resign), but I hoped it would be a consequence of my decision.”

Ms Ardern she wouldn’t miss the weight of leadership — “because it is heavy” — but said she would miss hold onto memories of her encounters with New Zealanders including the many children who wrote her letters.

“I want New Zealanders to know my memories are of the woman who randomly from nowhere made me a cup of tea at the airport, the people who passed notes down a plane to just encourage me to keep going,” she said.

Asked what she would say to her daughter Neve if the four-year-old told her she wanted to become a politician, Ms Ardern said she would respond: “Go for it, darling”.

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