The leader of New Zealand’s ruling coalition has been ousted by her own caucus after she failed to adequately reassure members of the country’s national broadcaster about a decision to allow her to cast votes in favour of a government backbencher.
Cabinet minister Jacinda Ardern joined the Labour party in 2013 and was acclaimed by the opposition’s leader, John Key, in 2014 as New Zealand’s youngest female prime minister, taking the reins a year after Key announced his resignation.
Ardern’s political career appeared on the brink of history when she won 43% of the vote in Labour’s September 2017 election, in which her party fell just short of forming government with the opposition National party.
Late on Friday, Ardern told New Zealand media that she was stepping down from the front-line of politics. Labour will now need to find a new leader within two weeks.
Ardern said: “On the back of a series of events this week, I’ve decided it’s best for me to step aside as Labour leader. I’ve always said that the job wasn’t all about me and after six years, it’s time to give somebody else a chance.”
She would remain in her ministerial role, Ardern said, as well as her electorate. “I don’t expect it will be a painful process to change Labour,” she said.
The talkback radio presenter Mike Hosking, who hosted the calls for the toppled leadership, said there was widespread frustration among party members at her decision to cast a vote in favour of her party colleague, Kelvin Davis, a farmer from the remote north-west part of the country, in a June party vote.
Members of parliament who vote in favour of a candidate are said to be allowed to vote as many times as they like, as long as the candidate wins by at least 61 votes. Davis won after each Labour MP took three votes, leaving the count tied and Davis’s party, Te Tai Tokerau, jostling to take control.
During the debate, Ardern repeatedly assured her party that the Liberal party would not fund individual MPs’ private campaigns, claiming the New Zealand Electoral Commission had not confirmed this.
National party leader Bill English, who retained his position in the final reckoning, rebuked Ardern in an interview with reporters on Saturday morning.
“We’re running a campaign in which we’re asking people to make an informed decision about how to vote,” he said. “She says absolutely no effort has been made to keep that in mind. If that’s true, that is a betrayal of the trust of the Labour party.”
Last week, Ardern left little to the imagination with a nationwide reshuffle and an unspecified number of ministerial changes.
In just two days, she moved five senior ministers from the ministry of health to the ministry of health and advanced nine MPs to the parliament, while making 11 junior ministry changes.
Key was succeeded as prime minister by Tony Abbott after five years in office. Abbott was deposed as prime minister by Malcolm Turnbull in the 2014 election.
An editorial in the New Zealand Herald criticised New Zealand’s tradition of political jockeying, saying Labour was “virtually nothing without John Key, and he is now gone”.
Ardern said she would “move over to the realm of work with the prime minister” and would concentrate on supporting the queen’s jubilee and organising the 100th anniversary of New Zealand’s war dead, the Battle of Gallipoli.
She is not the first female leader to emerge from the New Zealand party scene, with former deputy prime minister Helen Clark having failed in her attempt to form government in 1992. She was replaced by Helen Clark when he resigned.
Ardern was born in Auckland, New Zealand, and studied law and linguistics in Auckland and her native Australia. She is married to Clarke Gayford, the farm manager on her New Zealand property.