New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern Image Credit: Reuters

WELLINGTON: New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Thursday announced she will resign next month, saying she no longer has "enough in the tank" to remain as leader.

"I am human. We give as much as we can for as long as we can and then it's time. And for me, it's time," she said at a meeting of members of her Labour Party.

"I have given my absolute all to being prime minister but it has also taken a lot out of me," she said. "You cannot and should not do the job unless you have a full tank, plus a bit in reserve for those unplanned and unexpected challenges that inevitably come along. Having reflected over summer I know I no longer have that bit extra in the tank to do the job justice. It's that simple."

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The unexpected announcement brings the curtain down on a stunning political career that saw Ardern become the world's youngest female leader when, then aged 37, she led Labour to power at the 2017 election. It comes as she faced an uphill battle to win a third term in office, with Labour trailing the opposition National Party in opinion polls.

Ardern became prime minister in a coalition government in 2017 and then led her centre-left Labour Party to a comprehensive victory in an election three years later.

During her time as leader, she won international acclaim for her handling of a terror attack on two Muslim mosques and the COVID-19 pandemic, and became only the second world leader to give birth while in office. But her party and personal popularity, often referred to as "Jacindamania", have dropped in recent domestic polls amid escalating inflation and fears of a rising crime rate.

In her first public appearance since parliament went into its summer recess a month ago, she told Labour's annual caucus retreat that she had hoped to find the energy to continue as leader during the break, "but I have not been able to do that".

FILE - In this Sunday, March 17, 2019 image made from video, New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, center, hugs and consoles a woman as she visited Kilbirnie Mosque, in Wellington. Ardern was hailed around the world for her decisive response to the two mosque shootings by a white nationalist who killed 50 worshippers. For many Muslims, her most consequential move was immediately labeling the attack an act of terrorism. Community leaders and researchers say that for too long, terrorism was considered a "Muslim problem" and that a double standard persists when attacker is white and non-Muslim. (TVNZ via AP, File) Image Credit: AP

General election in October

The next general election will be held on Saturday, October 14, Ardern revealed in her announcement in Napier on the country's eastern coast. The prime minister said she would continue to serve as an electorate MP until then.

Although recent polls indicate a coalition of the centre-right National and Act parties will win the election, Ardern said that was not the reason for her resignation.

"I am not leaving because I believe we cannot win the next election, but because I believe we can and will," she said.

"I am leaving because with such a privileged job comes a big responsibility. The responsibility to know when you are the right person to lead - and also when you're not."

Ardern said her resignation would take effect no later than February 7, and that the Labour caucus would vote on a new leader in three days. Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson said he would not be putting his name forward.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese praised Ardern as a leader who has "shown the world how to lead with intellect and strength." He said she demonstrated that empathy and insight "are powerful leadership qualities".

Ardern's party has been battling declining trust in government, a deteriorating economic situation, and a resurgent conservative opposition.

The stress has been evident recently, with Ardern showing a rare lapse of poise last month when she was unwittingly caught on a microphone calling an opposition politician an "arrogant prick".