Ardern faced unprecedented hatred, ex-New Zealand leader Helen Clark says

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Former New Zealand prime minister Helen Clark has lauded Jacinda Ardern as an “extraordinary leader” who faced unprecedented attacks during her time in office.

“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,” Clark said in a statement.

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“Our society could now usefully reflect on whether it wants to continue to tolerate the excessive polarization which is making politics an increasingly unattractive calling,” she added.

Ardern announced her shock resignation on Thursday, saying she didn’t have the energy to seek a third term at an election later this year. She said she wanted to spend more time with her four-year-old daughter, Neve, and partner Clarke Gayford, who she was due to marry last year until a wave of COVID-19 infections forced them to cancel the nuptials.

The politician became a torch-bearer for liberal values on the global stage during her five years as prime minister, giving birth in office and promoting empathetic leadership at a time when right-wing populists like Donald Trump were on the rise. But at home she also became a target for misogyny and personal attacks as some objected to her strict social restrictions to battle COVID-19.

Anti-government protesters often brandished placards calling her things such as “a pretty communist” and deriding her message to “be kind.” She also received increasing numbers of threats from the public, with police reportedly dealing with 50 in 2021.

In October last year, Ardern’s electorate office was attacked by someone brandishing a sword.

Ardern was also a lightening rod for right-wing media commentators abroad.

After she announced her resignation, Fox News host Tucker Carlson called Ardern “the lady with the big teeth and a Chinese puppet who tormented her citizens.”

Read more: A sign of the times, NZ PM Ardern’s resignation resonates for women in power

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