Jacinda Ardern announced her resignation as the prime minister of New Zealand on January 19th, 2023. Ardern was the world’s youngest female head of government and was the second elected head of government to give birth while in office. She led New Zealand through the aftermath of the Christchurch mosque shootings and through the COVID-19 pandemic, among other events, which earned her global respect in her effective responses.
Despite her successes, she has been subject to misogynistic criticism veiled as critiques on her economic and political decisions. Ardern’s resignation has even been met with criticism that she is leaving her party in a worse shape than how it began. Whilst it’s debatable as to whether she stood in good stead to get re-elected, she certainly surprised the world with her choice to resign.
Arden cited burnout as her reason for stepping down, but analysts have suggested her declining popularity as the reason for her decision. But why is it so difficult to understand that politicians could just be out of fuel? Manoeuvring a country through lockdown decisions, taking the brunt of accountability for the effects of those decisions, and being held responsible for people dying or the demise of a country’s economy must be emotionally exhausting. The ability to address the limits of their capabilities should be something to be admired rather than scorned.
…why is it so difficult to understand that politicians could just be out of fuel?
Being a woman in power and, furthermore, in politics, leaves you in an exceptionally vulnerable position, and Ardern was no stranger to this. She reported facing increased levels of online death threats, rape threats, and vulgar commentary in 2022 than at the start of her tenure. This is not something exclusive to Ardern –– the Centre for Democracy and Technology reports that women of colour in the US running for office were four times as likely to be targeted with violence than white candidates. On another vein, sexist criticism and comments don’t just extend to trolls, but even interviewers; Ardern and Finnish prime minister Sanna Marin were asked whether they were meeting because they were young female leaders and had to refute the suggestion by stating “We’re meeting because we are prime ministers.” Finally, Ardern’s resignation sparked sexist discourse regarding whether women can uphold the emotional pressure and stress of roles in politics. Conceptualising burnout as an exclusively female phenomenon is not only misogynistic, but also harmful towards men who almost certainly feel the fatigue associated with running a country.
To expect politicians to maintain top decision-making form without a break seems counterintuitive.
Politicians are held as the receptors of public criticism, and the fact that they are liable for the wellbeing and livelihoods of their citizens is not to be disregarded. However, it is becoming increasingly more evident that the more a country spins out of control — even if the reasons for which are far beyond control of the government — the more backlash a politician receives. Enter coronavirus, the destructive player. Arguably very few people were content with the way that their countries handled the situation. Politicians were scorned for taking a break during the extensive three plus year crisis that the world endured. To expect politicians to maintain top decision-making form without a break seems counterintuitive. Many other professions, such as pilots, have limits on the hours that they can work per week (The EASA limit 60 duty hours per 7 consecutive days) in order to prevent burnout and promote good work, yet it is seen as neglectful when a politician takes a day off. .
Jacinda Ardern’s resignation has also prompted questions about Trudeau’s tenure as the Prime Minister of Canada. Like Ardern, Trudeau has attained a sort of celebrity status as governmental leader. Although Trudeau is set to stand for re-election, his popularity has waned in recent years, facing controversies with policy pressures on gun legislation, inflation, and recession in Canada. Hints that Trudeau should stand down and preserve his reputation whilst also preventing a conservative backlash against him are floating around the political sphere.
Both Jacinda Ardern and Nicola Sturgeon should perhaps serve as lessons for more politicians to recognise that it’s wise for them to be aware of their limits
More recently, Nicola Sturgeon, the first minister of Scotland, announced on the 15th February that she would step down once a new leader was elected. Sturgeon was criticised for her handling of certain policies, but ultimately cited burnout as her reasoning for leaving her post, stating that there was an increased “brutality” in the life of a politician and is quoted saying, “Giving absolutely everything of yourself to this job is the only way to do it. The country deserves nothing less. But in truth that can only be done, by anyone, for so long.”
It seems that personal pride among politicians often prevents them from looking objectively at what might be best for the country. Both Jacinda Ardern and Nicola Sturgeon should perhaps serve as lessons for more politicians to recognise that it’s wise for them to be aware of their limits, and sometimes standing down is more chivalrous than overstaying their tenure.