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Jacinda Ardern denies quitting over criticism she faced as PM

Jacinda Ardern speaks during Ratana Celebrations in Whanganui
Jacinda Ardern speaks during Ratana Celebrations in Whanganui

Outgoing New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern has denied that she resigned because of the level of criticism she faced as leader.

Wearing a traditional Maori cloak, known as a korowai - an item symbolising prestige, she addressed her supporters for the last time while visiting Ratana to celebrate the birth of indigenous prophet Tahupotiki Wiremu Ratana.

"Whilst there has been a bit of commentary in the aftermath of my departure, I would hate for anyone to view my departure as a negative commentary on New Zealand," she said.

"I have experienced such love, compassion, empathy and kindness when I've been in this job. That has been my predominant experience."

Ms Ardern's surprise resignation last week prompted widespread discussion about the vitriolic and misogynistic attacks targeting her on social media.

She has also faced criticism for Labour's poor performance in the polls, which has been attributed to her strict zero Covid policy, rampant inflation, and a cost of living crisis.

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Ahead of heading to Government House in Wellington on Wednesday to resign, she said she was ready to be “a backbench MP ... a sister, and a mom."

Her daughter Neve is 4 years old and starts school in June.

“You won’t find me commentating on domestic politics – I’ve had my time,” she added.

She said she was departing with a greater affection for New Zealanders than when she became prime minister: “I didn’t think that was possible."

Ms Ardern also paid tribute to the new Labour leader, Chris Hipkins, who was also present.

“You knew me as aunty, I hope you know him as Chippy,” she said, in reference to Hipkins’ nickname.

She said the only real advice she could offer was, "You do you."

"It's for him to carve out his own space to be his own kind of leader," Ms Ardern said.

The emotional gathering was a fitting farewell for a woman who, along with suffering a vicious level of abuse, also attracted an almost religious-like fervour among some.

The New Zealand Herald reported how her supporters “pressed up against each other, desperate to have their moment with the former leader.”

“We are sad,” one of them confessed to Ms Ardern as she walked by.

“Touch her like Jesus, touch her gown,” another woman urged her friend.