New PM Jacinda Ardern joins an elite few among world, NZ leaders

When Jacinda Ardern was sworn in as New Zealand's 40th Prime Minister on Thursday morning, she joined esteemed company in terms of national and international leadership.

As our third female Prime Minister, she joined a growing list of women among current world leaders.

At the age of 37, Ms Ardern became our second-youngest Prime Minister and ranked in the top five youngest world leaders in office.

Since she was recruited, as a teenager, by her aunt to help the re-election of New Plymouth's Labour MP Harry Duynhoven in 1999, Ms Ardern has seemed destined for this day. She became a senior leader in the Young Labour movement, served as a researcher under Phil Goff and Helen Clark, and even worked in an 80-person policy unit that advised then-UK Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Ms Ardern unsuccessfully sought the safe National seat of Waikato in the 2008 election, but entered parliament at the age of 28, as a list candidate.

She retained her list seat in 2011 and 2014, but won the storied Mt Albert seat in a 2017 by-election, after former Labour leader David Shearer retired. That same electorate had previously been held by former Prime Ministers Michael Joseph Savage and Ms Clark, as well as three-time acting Prime Minister Warren Freer.

That victory saw Ms Ardern unanimously elected as Deputy Leader of the Labour Party in March 2017 and within five months, her rapid rise to the leadership was complete, after incumbent Andrew Little stepped aside.

Her promotion proved a masterstroke for the party, which seemed dead in the water with an election fast approaching. Within weeks, she took Labour from 20 points behind to slightly ahead of the ruling National party in the polls.

While that initial support fell away as polling day approached, Labour maintained enough momentum to deny National a clear majority and Ms Ardern was then able to woo the Greens and NZ First into an unlikely alliance that put her team into Government.

Wily NZ First leader Winston Peters - New Zealand's longest-serving MP - said Ms Ardern had "exhibited extraordinary talent" and taken Labour from a "hopeless position to a position where they're in office and government today".

"Our perception was the people of this country did want change and we've responded to that."

Her ability to win over Mr Peters spoke to her diplomacy skills, but perhaps the most astute assessment of Ms Ardern's performance over recent months came from Labour Party matriarch Ms Clark.     

"People feel Jacinda is listening to them," she told Radio NZ. "She wants to do good, she wants to make New Zealand a better place, and she has shown that she has the leadership capacity to get on and do it."

Ms Ardern has wasted no time laying down her agenda for the new government, naming her line-up of 31 Cabinet Ministers, Ministers outside Cabinet and under-secretaries on Wednesday.

"One of the concerns we've had for a long time is we have an economy at the moment that is not serving all New Zealanders," she told Lisa Owens on The Nation.

"People are not feeling the benefits of any form of prosperity. Wages aren't keeping up with inflation, the cost of housing is outstripping most people's reach.

"And what is the point, for instance, of economic growth, when we have some of the worst homelessness in the developed world.

"Our plan is to be an active government - one that's focussed on ensuring that people have decent jobs, decent housing and hope for the future."

That job began - officially - today.


Youngest world leaders

1 Sebatian Kurz (Austria), 31

2 Enrico Carattoni (San Marino), 32

3 Kim Jong Un (North Korea), 34

4 Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani (Qatar), 37

5 Jacinda Ardern (NZ), 37


Female world leaders

Germany - Angela Merkel, Chancellor

Liberia - Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President

Switzerland - Doris Leuthard, President

Bangladesh - Sheikh Hasina, Prime Minister

Lithuania - Dalia Grybauskaitė, President

Norway - Erna Solberg, Prime Minister

Chile - Michelle Bachelet, President

Malta - Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca, President

Croatia - Kilinda Grabar-Kitarović, President

Namibia - Saara Kuugongelwa, Prime Minister

Mauritius - Ameenah Gurib, President

Nepal - Bidhya Devi Bhandari, President

Poland - Beata Szydio, Prime Minister

Marshall Islands - Hilda Heine, President

Taiwan - Tsai Ing-wen, President

United Kingdom - Theresa May, Prime Minister

Estonia Kersti - Kaljulaid, President

Serbia - Ana Brnabić, Prime Minister

Singapore - Halimah Yacob, President

Peru - Mercedes Aráoz, Prime Minister

New Zealand - Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister


Youngest NZ prime ministers

Edward Stafford (37 years 40 days) 1856

Jacinda Ardern (37 years 92 days) 2017

Julius Vogel (38 years 43 days) 1873


Female NZ prime ministers

Jenny Shipley 1997-99

Helen Clark 1999-2008

Jacinda Ardern 2017-present