New Zealand’s Ardern bids an emotional farewell on her final day as prime minister

WELLINGTON (Reuters) – Jacinda Ardern on Tuesday gave a moving farewell on her last day as prime minister, speaking of the kindness and sympathy New Zealanders have shown her, but saying she was ready to be a sister and a mother.

Days after stunning the world by announcing she was “no longer in the tank” to lead the country and would step down, the 42-year-old arrived at a gathering of politicians and Maori elders in the small town of Ratana, north of Wellington, and was soon surrounded by supporters seeking photographs.

“I thank you from the bottom of my heart for the greatest privilege of my life,” Ardern told the audience.

She will resign on Wednesday and be replaced by new Labor leader Chris Hipkins.

Ardern, along with Hepkins and opposition politicians, had been making an annual visit to Ratana, where a week-long celebration of the birth of Maori Tahuputiki prophet Werimu Ratana is held.

Dressed in a black dress with her shoulders covered by a traditional Maori cloak, called a korowai, she led her party members out onto the community grounds while a brass band played. The speeches and accompanying songs and dances saw the elders speak with humor and warmth about Ardern.

“Thank you so much for teaching us to love quickly,” one of the elders told Ardern.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern addresses members of the media during a joint press conference she hosted with Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, after the annual Leaders’ Meeting, at the Commonwealth Parliamentary Offices in Sydney, Australia, July 8, 2022. REUTERS/Lauren Elliott/File photo

Ardern responded saying she was not planning on speaking but those who were there refused to give her the chance.

“My overall experience working for New Zealand and New Zealanders in this job has been one of love, compassion and kindness,” she said.

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The left-leaning global icon has attracted attention for bringing her baby boy to a United Nations meeting and wearing a hijab after a massacre of Muslims. Although she became the target of online hate and abuse by right-wing extremists on social media, she said she left the job with love in her heart.

“I want you to know that I leave with greater love and affection for Aotearoa New Zealand and its people than when I started.”

Before hitting the ground running, Ardern faced the media for probably one last time as prime minister, smiling broadly that she refused to answer political questions, saying it was now the responsibility of her successor.

“I’m ready to be a lot of things. I’m ready to be a backseat MP. I’m ready to be a sister and a mother,” she said.

Her daughter, Neff, is 4 and starts school in June.

Hipkins, the country’s former COVID minister, was the only person nominated to take over as leader of the Labor Party. He was elected as a deputy for the first time in 2008.

Lucy Kramer reports. Editing by Praveen Menon and Jerry Doyle

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