February 1, 2023

When an Australian gunman shot dead 51 worshipers at two mosques in Christchurch, Ardern wore a black hijab as a sign of respect as she met with members of the city’s Muslim community. He took swift action to toughen the nation’s gun laws, including a ban on military-style semi-automatic weapons, and led a global campaign for social media companies to crack down on extremist behavior. “She was calm, she was compassionate, she was dignified,” Shaw says.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern hugs a visitor to the Kilbirnie Mosque in Wellington in 2019 after the Christchurch massacre. Her response to the attack was praised around the world.Credit:Getty

Ardern took a hardline response to the arrival of COVID, closing the country’s borders and shutting down the economy. In the first year of the pandemic, New Zealand went 102 days without community transmission and recorded one of the lowest death rates in the world. Like Australian state premiers who followed similar “COVID zero” policies, New Zealand voters rewarded Ardern with a landslide victory in the 2020 election.

The reality of Ardern’s premiership was more flawed than international hype suggested. A plan to create more affordable housing, called KiwiBuild, was scrapped after two years because it wasn’t building houses fast enough. Ardern’s survey numbers have tumbled over the past year as COVID death numbers soared, inflation soared and concerns about crime mounted. Rather than face possible electoral defeat this year, he decided to resign.

However, the legacy of his leadership style will live on. Ardern demonstrated that encouraging empathy could be just as powerful politically as stoking division, in the process elevating New Zealand’s status on the world stage to unprecedented heights.

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