Jacinda Ardern: political figures believe abuse and threats contributed to PM’s resignation

by 24britishtvJan. 20, 2023, 4 a.m. 16
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Jacinda Ardern has said she slept soundly after her shock resignation “for the first time in a long time”, as speculation grows that abuse and threats against the prime minister contributed to her stepping down.

Speaking briefly with reporters outside Hawke’s Bay airport on Friday, Ardern said she was feeling “a range of emotions”.

“I of course feel sad – but also I do have a sense of relief.”

On Thursday, the prime minister said abuse or threats to her and her family had not been a decisive factor in her decision to resign, and that she simply “no longer [had] enough in the tank to do it justice”.

Prominent New Zealand political leaders and public figures, however, say that “constant vilification,” abuse and personal attacks have contributed to that burnout – with some MPs saying the prime minister was “driven from office”, and calling for New Zealand to reexamine its political culture.

“It is a sad day for politics where an outstanding leader has been driven from office for constant personalisation and vilification,” Māori party co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer said in the wake of Ardern’s surprise resignation on Thursday.

“Her whānau [family] have withstood the ugliest attacks over the last two years with what we believe to be the most demeaning form of politics we have ever seen”.

Former prime minister Helen Clark, New Zealand’s first female elected leader, said that Ardern had faced “unprecedented” attacks during her tenure.

“The pressures on prime ministers are always great, but in this era of social media, clickbait and 24/7 media cycles, Jacinda has faced a level of hatred and vitriol which in my experience is unprecedented in our country,” she said. “Our society could now usefully reflect on whether it wants to continue to tolerate the excessive polarisation which is making politics an increasingly unattractive calling.”

In 2022, New Zealand police reported that threats against the prime minister had nearly tripled over three years. While police could not determine motives for every individual threat, documents they released showed anti-vaccination sentiment was a driving force of a number of threats, and opposition to legislation to regulate firearms after the 15 March mass shooting in Christchurch was another factor.

A weeks-long anti-vaccine-mandate occupation of parliament’s lawns descended into a violent riot in early 2022, with protesters calling for the prime minister’s execution. The protests, coupled with increased threats and abuse against the prime minister and other MPs, prompted New Zealand’s typically open and accessible parliament to up security measures.

Over the past year, a number of men have been arrested, formally warned or faced criminal charges for threatening to assassinate Ardern, with one found guilty of sabotage in an attempt to destroy the country’s power grid connections. Public appearances by the prime minister increasingly attracted small, at times abusive groups of protesters.

In one ugly incident, protesters in a car chased the prime minister’s van, shouting obscenities and screaming that she was “a Nazi”, at one point forcing it on to the footpath, and in February 2022, shouting protesters again chased the prime minister’s van down a driveway as she visited a primary school.

Kate Hannah, director of the Disinformation Project which monitors online extremism at research centre Te Pūnaha Matatini, said the program had seen a significant increase in abusive, threatening material directed at Ardern, and believed it had likely contributed to her leaving the role.

“The scope of what we’ve observed over the last three years is such that there’s no way it could not have been a contributing factor – for any person,” she said.

“What we see now is absolutely normative, extremely vulgar and violent slurs … incredibly violent use of imagery around death threats.”

In her resignation announcement on Thursday, Ardern was asked how threats to her safety had played into her decision. “It does have an impact. We are humans after all, but that was not the basis of my decision,” she said.

“I am human, politicians are human. We give all that we can for as long as we can. And then it’s time. And for me, it’s time,” she said.

Now, the race is on for Labour to find a replacement for Ardern. Their caucus will meet on Sunday to vote on candidates for a new leader. A nominee must gain two-thirds of the caucus vote to clinch the leadership – if not, the vote will be taken to the party’s wider membership. The eventual winner will be tasked with leading the party into a tough 14 October election.

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